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New Study Suggests Cannabis Could Help Ease The Opioid Epidemic

Posted in Journalism, and MintPress News

Originally published at MintPress News.

AUSTIN, Texas — A new study suggests that cannabis could help ease the deadly opioid epidemic in the United States.

Participants reported “a notable decrease in their use of conventional pharmaceutical agents,” including a 42-percent drop in the use of opiates, according to the pilot study published in Frontiers in Pharmacology on Oct. 13.

The study also suggested that the cognitive function of some medical marijuana users improved over a three-month period.

However, the authors warn that the study’s sample size was too small to be considered conclusive. Twenty-four patients were involved in the initial sample, and 11 returned for follow-up tests on their cognitive abilities three months after initiating treatment.

“While intriguing, these findings are preliminary and warrant further investigation at additional time points and in larger sample sizes,” the authors wrote.

Despite its preliminary nature, the Frontiers study joins a growing number of anecdotal reports that cannabis may help chronic pain patients reduce their use of prescription painkillers and help addicts ease the symptoms of withdrawal.

Carrie Roberts, a legal cannabis industry consultant with a background in law enforcement, told MintPress News that she’s excited about the potential benefits of cannabis in treating addiction.

“I’m really passionate about how cannabis can be a solution to our current opioid epidemic,” she said.

Roberts is a senior consultant at Medicine Man Technologies, where she helps new businesses navigate the complicated legal and regulatory landscape of the cannabis industry. And as a recovering alcoholic and someone whose best friend died of a heroin overdose in 2004, she said she has experienced, firsthand, the suffering caused by addition.

“We’ve demonized and stigmatized and criminalized addiction for so long and we shouldn’t be treating addicts like criminals,” Roberts said. “We need to treat them like human beings.”

An unprecedented epidemic of addiction to heroin and opioid drugs is unfolding in the United States, and many experts agree that previous ways of approaching the issue are proving ineffective. On Nov. 17, the surgeon general issued a detailed report, “Facing Addiction In America,” which urges medical professionals and policymakers to treat addiction as a chronic illness, rather than a moral failing on the part of the addict.

“A lot of time people remain as addicts because the process of going through withdrawal and getting clean is a very painful process,” Roberts said.

However, cannabis can relieve many of the worst symptoms of opiate withdrawal. “It helps relieve nausea, it helps relieve pain, it helps relieve anxiety,” said Roberts.

Some doctors are beginning to investigate the potential benefits of cannabis for drug addiction treatment in their practice. In an October interview for The Establishment, Dr. Sue Sisley, an Arizona-based family physician, said that she’s seen the benefit of cannabis in her patients, many of whom are veterans. She continued:

Cannabis has been a really successful intervention for a lot of guys who have been stuck on opioids for years. They micro-dose cannabis throughout the day to help manage the opioid withdrawal syndrome.

Sisley, who is also involved in a study of the benefits of cannabis in veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder, was instrumental in lobbying the American Legion to pass a resolution calling on the government to ease access to medical marijuana.

“There are some doctors and physicians and people working in addiction medicine who are saying what we’ve currently done isn’t working, we’re not solving the [addiction] problem, and who are looking to step outside of that traditional box,” Roberts told MintPress.

While opponents of cannabis legalization sometimes suggest cannabis is a gateway drug, that concept has little scientific merit. In fact, Roberts said the opposite may be true.

“Instead of cannabis being a gateway drug into harder drugs, I think that we might see cannabis being used as a gateway drug out of our current opioid epidemic,” she concluded.

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