people using marijuana to prevent opiate relapse, marijuana as a gateway drug to opioid use

The opioid crisis is an ongoing public health issue where individuals are becoming dependent upon opiates, leading to abuse and addiction. With the use of cannabis being so prevalent among young adults, some are considering the use of it for preventing opiate relapse. This attempt at treatment has reported individuals with opioid use disorder (OUD) experiencing increased cravings for opioid use, failing it as a potential relapse prevention strategy.

The Opioid Crisis: The Rise of Opioid Abuse and Addiction

In the late 1990s, the opioid crisis, also known as the opioid epidemic, surfaced when there was an increase in opioids being prescribed for pain management. Drugs like oxycodone (OxyContin), hydrocodone (Vicodin), and methadone, prescribed initially as pain relievers, became significantly misused and abused due to their addictive nature. This epidemic witnessed an increase in drug addiction and opioid use disorders (OUDs), leading to opioid-related overdoses and deaths.

With the rise of synthetic opioids like fentanyl, the crisis has seen an increase in overdose deaths from fentanyl. Fentanyl is a far more potent and deadly substance compared to opioids like heroin. Addressing the opioid crisis requires a multifaceted approach, including drug rehabilitation treatment, addiction resources, and relapse prevention strategies.

In searching for healthy relapse prevention strategies, some individuals have turned to marijuana to curb their cravings for opioids. While cannabis, the combination of THC and other mind-altering compounds, can have potential benefits, the use of it for preventing opioid relapse has been reported to do more harm than good.

The Use of Marijuana to Prevent Opiate Relapse

Among young adults in the United States, marijuana (cannabis) is one of the most used drugs. Using marijuana while in recovery from opioid addiction can pose several risks and challenges, particularly for those with a history of substance use disorders (SUDs). There is limited clinical evidence supporting the efficacy of marijuana in treating opioid addiction or preventing relapse, which makes it difficult to assess the safety and effectiveness of marijuana for this purpose.

Risk of Addiction and Triggering Relapse

Marijuana, also known as ‘weed’ or ‘cannabis,’ itself has the potential for misuse and addiction. While it is considered less addictive than opioids, its psychoactive properties and the way it interacts with the brain can lead to repeated use and dependency. The use of any psychoactive substance, such as marijuana, can trigger cravings or a return to opioid use and relapse. Individuals with a history of substance abuse or in active recovery may be more vulnerable and at risk of developing a psychological dependence on marijuana. In recovery from opioid abuse, it’s recommended to avoid any type of triggers, including marijuana, that can lead to relapse.

Mental Health Concerns

Marijuana use can contribute to mental health issues, such as anxiety, depression, and, in some cases, psychosis. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) activates the brain’s reward system and stimulates the release of dopamine, the feel-good hormone. The euphoric effects of marijuana can cause individuals to continue using it as a means to self-medicate or ‘to escape from reality.’

Repeated use of marijuana can exacerbate mental health conditions, especially for recovering addicts, leading to increased anxiety and feelings of depression. Maintaining stable mental health is especially crucial for those in recovery from addiction, and marijuana may interfere with this.

Interaction with Addiction Treatment Medications

Marijuana can interact with other medications, including those used for treating opioid addiction in drug and alcohol rehab. Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) for opiate detox employs methadone or buprenorphine (Suboxone) to treat opioid use disorder (OUD). The interaction between marijuana and medications used for opioid detox can potentially alter the effectiveness of these medications or lead to adverse effects.

Impairment and Cognitive Effects

Regular use of marijuana can impair cognitive and motor functions, affecting memory, attention, and decision-making. Cannabis can alter senses, cause hallucinations and delusions, and even alter the sense of time. Cognitive dysfunction can be particularly problematic for individuals in the process of recovery from opioid addiction.

Physical Health Risks

The physical effects of marijuana typically include increased heart rate, breathing problems, intense nausea, and vomiting. Smoking marijuana can have respiratory effects similar to those caused by smoking tobacco. There are also concerns about the cardiovascular effects of marijuana, especially in individuals with underlying heart conditions. These health risks may be particularly concerning for individuals recovering from opioid addiction with poor physical and mental health.

Legal and Social Implications

The legal status of marijuana varies by region, and its use can have legal and social ramifications. For individuals recovering from a substance use disorder (SUD), criminal charges, employment issues, and social stigma can significantly deter the recovery process. These implications can also cause relationship problems with friends and family members, helping with the recovery process.

Substitution Risk

While some may see cannabis as a medicinal treatment for opioid addiction, it often acts as a gateway drug for other addictive substances. Instead of addressing the underlying causes of addiction, such as managing one’s mental, physical, and behavioral health, using marijuana as a substitute for opioids can lead to a dangerous cycle. Many substances are labeled as gateway drugs, like alcohol and marijuana.

A gateway drug is a substance that can lead to the use of other more potent and dangerous substances. In the context of substituting one addictive substance for another, marijuana instead of opiates can lead individuals back down the path of substance abuse and addiction.

Strategies and Treatment for Opioid Relapse Prevention

Treating opioid use disorder (OUD) and drug addiction requires a comprehensive treatment approach involving evidence-based treatments and therapies. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests evidence-based strategies, including medication-assisted treatment (MAT) and opioid disorder treatment, to help in opioid relapse and overdose prevention. Addressing the importance of treatment programs and mental health services can help individuals struggling with opioid abuse receive medical and psychological interventions for opioid use disorders (OUDs).

For those struggling with opiate addiction, our medical detox and drug rehab in South Florida is here for you. At Coastal Detox, our opiate detox programs in Stuart, FL, employ a combination of medication-assisted treatment (MAT) and holistic therapies to facilitate the detox and recovery process.

Reach out today to connect with one of our addiction specialists and get started on your road to recovery!







  • ScienceDirect, 2021. Case Reports on the Failure of Smoking Marijuana to Prevent Relapse to Use of Opiates in Adolescents/Young Adults With Opiate Use Disorder.
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2023. Understanding the Opioid Overdose Epidemic.
  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), 2019. Key Substance Use and Mental Health Indicators in the United States: Results from the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.
  • National Library of Medicine. Facing Addiction in America: The Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health [Internet]. CHAPTER 2 THE NEUROBIOLOGY OF SUBSTANCE USE, MISUSE, AND ADDICTION.
  • National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2019. Cannabis (Marijuana) DrugFacts.
  • National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2020. Is marijuana a gateway drug?
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2022. Evidence-Based Strategies for Preventing Opioid Overdose: What’s Working in the United States.