MJWellness
May 13, 2016 8:25 AM

Is Cannabis Effective for Opioid Addiction?

There is an increasing number of patients who report that cannabis has helped them give up their painkiller addiction. Such anecdotal evidence inspires marijuana advocates and intrigues lawmakers who promote cannabis for treating opioid abuse and using it as an alternative to analgetics. However, there are a few studies that investigated marijuana's effect on the narcotic addiction treatment.

Cannabis advocates claim that most scientific findings prove this idea, referring to a study published in the Journal of Pain at the beginning of this year. The results of this study have revealed that patients with chronic pain decreased their use of painkillers when taking medical marijuana. Moreover, the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) published a study conducted last year that discovered the efficiency of cannabis in treating chronic pain and other severe conditions.

Unfortunately, this evidence is not enough for medical cannabis doctors to start prescribing cannabis and to urge patients to give up using analgetic drugs or opioid painkillers like heroin and other narcotics.

Michele Ham from Maine, where opiate addiction is proposed to be added to the qualifying list of marijuana conditions, claims that medical cannabis helped her wean off a long-lasting addiction to analgetic drugs she took for relieving her chronic pain in the back and neck. Her condition has significantly improved since she began taking marijuana in 2013, and now she is arranging volunteers in their donation center.

Similar stories have inspired some medical marijuana doctors in California and Massachusetts to experiment with cannabis as a medication for addiction treatment. While Maine is still only considering opiate addiction as a condition for cannabis prescription, Vermont's activists have already substantiated addiction treatment in their push to legalize marijuana. In Minnesota, cannabis advocates are also going to change the state laws this August to allow medical patients to use weed instead of opiates.

A threatening number of people die from drug addiction in the U.S. each year. For instance, in New Hampshire, the rate of opioid-related overdose deaths has doubled last year comparing to the 2011 levels. Nevertheless, the Senate rejected the effort to legalize marijuana last month.

Fortunately, the results of one 2014 JAMA study proved the pros of marijuana by discovering that the states with decriminalized cannabis had about 25% fewer narcotic-related deaths than the states where cannabis use was banned. Moreover, this study also found the benefits of using marijuana for treating neuropathic and chronic pain.

However, Dr. Kevin Hill, the JAMA study author, thinks that cannabis activists go too far when they claim marijuana can treat opioid addiction. Indeed, the findings regarding the decrease of opioid use thanks to cannabis use, which were revealed by the scientists in the Journal of Pain study, were limited by the self-reported data of participants. Experts of substance abuse also argue that we already have tested medication, and marijuana is not as safe as weed advocates portray. In some cases, cannabis consumption may also cause addiction in the medical patients.

In their turn, weed supporters point to cannabis physicians like Dr. Gary Witman of Canna Care Docs, who has already successfully treated opioid dependence in fifteen patients in Massachusetts. The treatment results showed that the patients weaned off opioid completely and became more focused and sober-minded. Some of them were even going to get back to gainful employment.

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