Cannabis use is associated with reduced risk of exposure to fentanyl among people on opioid agonist therapy during a community-wide overdose crisis

Drug Alcohol Depend. 2021 Feb 1;219:108420. doi: 10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2020.108420. Epub 2020 Dec 17.


Background: The ongoing opioid overdose crisis is driven largely by exposure to illicitly-manufactured fentanyl. Preliminary observational and experimental research suggests that cannabis could potentially play a role in reducing use of prescription opioids among individuals with chronic pain. However, there is limited data on the effects of cannabis on illicit opioid consumption, particularly fentanyl, especially among individuals on opioid agonist therapy (OAT). We sought to assess the longitudinal association between cannabis use and exposure to fentanyl among people on OAT.

Methods: Data were drawn from two community-recruited prospective cohorts of people who use drugs in Vancouver, Canada. We used generalized linear mixed-effects modeling, adjusted by relevant confounders, to investigate the relationship between cannabis use and recent fentanyl exposure (both assessed by urine drug testing) among participants on OAT between 2016 and 2018.

Results: Among the 819 participants on OAT who contributed 1989 observations over the study period, fentanyl exposure was common. At the baseline interview, fentanyl was detected in a majority of participants (431, 53 %), with lower prevalence among individuals with urine drug tests positive for tetrahydrocannabinol (47 vs. 56 %, p = 0.028). Over all study interviews, cannabis use was independently associated with reduced likelihood of being recently exposed to fentanyl (Adjusted Prevalence Ratio = 0.91, 95 % Confidence Interval: 0.83 - 0.99).

Conclusions: Participants on OAT using cannabis had significantly lower risk of being exposed to fentanyl. Our findings reinforce the need for experimental trials to investigate the potential benefits and risks of controlled cannabinoid administration for people on OAT.

Keywords: Cannabis; Fentanyl; Opioid agonist therapy; Opioid use disorder.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Analgesics, Opioid / therapeutic use
  • Canada / epidemiology
  • Cannabis*
  • Drug Overdose / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Fentanyl*
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Marijuana Abuse / epidemiology*
  • Middle Aged
  • Opiate Substitution Treatment / statistics & numerical data*
  • Prescriptions
  • Prevalence
  • Prospective Studies
  • Substance Abuse Detection
  • Substance-Related Disorders / epidemiology*


  • Analgesics, Opioid
  • Fentanyl