The association between cannabis use and risk of non-medical pain reliever misuse onset among young adults in a legal cannabis context


Background:

Little is known about the prospective relationship between cannabis use and pain reliever misuse. This study examined associations of non-medical and medical cannabis use with onset of non-medical pain reliever misuse among young adults in Washington State (WA), where non-medical cannabis is legal.


Methods:

Data were from a cohort-sequential study of adults 18-25 residing in WA. Four annual surveys were used from cohorts recruited in 2014, 2015, and 2016. Participants who had not reported non-medical pain reliever misuse at baseline were included in discrete time survival analyses (N = 4,236). Odds ratios (ORs) were estimated for new onset of non-medical pain reliever misuse in any given follow-up year over the course of three years according to baseline non-medical and medical cannabis use.


Results:

When included separately in models, non-medical and medical cannabis use at baseline were associated with increased risk of non-medical pain reliever misuse adjusting for demographic characteristics as well as past year cigarette use and alcohol use (non-medical OR = 5.27; 95 % CI: 3.28, 8.48; medical OR = 2.21; 95 % CI: 1.39, 3.52). Including both forms of use in the model, associations of non-medical and medical cannabis use with non-medical pain reliever misuse onset remained (non-medical OR = 4.64; 95 % CI: 2.88, 7.49; medical OR = 1.65; 95 % CI: 1.04, 2.62).


Conclusions:

Despite claims that cannabis use may reduce opioid use and related harms, findings suggest that cannabis use, including medical use, may not be protective, but instead may increase risk for non-medical pain reliever misuse.


Keywords:

Cannabis; Prescription opioid misuse; Young adults.

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