A burgeoning number of opioid addicts are claiming that medical cannabis has served as an effective treatment in helping them combat their substance abuse.
Marijuana Can Help Prevent Prescription Painkiller Problem In America
The increasingly vocal support for cannabis treatment among opioid and painkiller addicts has caught the attention of both lawmakers and activists nationwide. And despite a dearth of evidence on the issue, some state legislatures have even considered adding opioid and heroin addiction to the list of afflictions qualifying for a medical cannabis prescription.
“Before, I couldn’t even function. I couldn’t get anything done,” says Michelle Ham, a 37-year-old Maine woman who professes to effectively battling her painkiller addiction with cannabis treatment. “Now, I actually organize volunteers, and we have a donations center to help the needy.”
Addiction to opioids –such as Vicodin, Oxycontin, and other painkillers— has grown into a public health epidemic that has produced some staggering statistics: According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, “drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental death in the US, with 47, 055 lethal drug overdoses in 2014. Opioid addiction is driving this epidemic, with 18, 893 overdose deaths related to prescription pain relievers.”
As a result of the widespread problem, many states are rushing to find solutions, with many states looking to cannabis as a possible treatment option. Doctors in Massachusetts, for example, have pushed for cannabis as a treatment for opioid addiction, while similar initiatives are also being explored in Maine, California, and elsewhere.
“As soon as we can get people off opioids to a nonaddicting substance — and medical marijuana is nonaddicting — I think it would dramatically impact the amount of opioid deaths,” says Dr. Gary Witman, who represents Canna Care Docs, a patchwork of facilities that enables patients to receive medical cannabis in states for which it is allowed.
Some evidence has already been published to support the assertion that cannabis can effectively treat an addiction to opioids and heroin. A study published in August 2014 in the Journal of the American Medical Association found a correlation between access to medical cannabis and lower mortality rates; in other words, states that allowed for the use of medical cannabis exhibited less opioid overdose-related deaths than states without such laws.
However, despite the confidence among many doctors that cannabis may provide a solution to the problem, other medical professionals insist that more research is needed. Colleen Barry, co-director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Mental Health and Addiction Policy Research, recently published findings in the New York Times that, while somewhat supportive of the notion that cannabis could be used to combat opioid addiction, nonetheless insisted that more testing should be undertaken on the issue.
“We don’t know whether the legalization of marijuana for recreational purposes will have an impact –positive or negative– on nonmedical use of opioids and heroin,” she wrote. “Again, evidence is lacking and will likely depend on how recreational marijuana is regulated.”