Can medical cannabis help to treat painkiller or heroin addiction?
With Americans facing a growing opioid addiction problem – either resulting from the use of opioid-based painkillers or through addiction to drugs such as heroin, medical cannabis may be a solution for kicking the opioid habit and ending addiction to painkillers.
A report from Associated Press published by Sci-Tech Today, says that evidence of cannabis being used as effective treatment for addiction is primarily anecdotal, and that clinicians are concerned that claims are being made before there is adequate scientific proof.
On the other hand, the story of Michelle Ham, previously so badly addicted to opioid based painkillers that she was unable to function properly in society, is creating a stir among medical cannabis advocates. She claims that she was able to go ‘cold turkey’ with the help of Cannabis. Certainly, a tantalizing claim, but one that should be approached with caution, especially since opioid withdrawal symptoms can be so bad that medical attention is urgently needed.
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In Massachusetts and California, stories regarding cannabis as a potential treatment for addiction have led doctors to experiment with the herb, while in Maine, medical cannabis advocates are trying to get addiction included in the list of ailments for which medical marijuana can be prescribed.
It is certainly true that an increase in the number of fatal opioid overdoses is causing concern, and Associated Press reports that published research findings show a reduction in opioid use among patients to whom cannabis has been prescribed for pain relief. A 2014 study published by JAMA is particularly encouraging. It found that opioid deaths were significantly lower in states with legislation in favor of medical marijuana. However, this is not the same as saying that cannabis can help people to overcome addiction problems. It merely seems to indicate that cannabis is an effective form of pain relief.
Commenting on the JAMA report, a prominent doctor says that there is evidence to support the use of cannabis as a treatment for chronic pain, but feels that taking this conclusion a step further and concluding that cannabis can treat addiction, is going too far.
Further anecdotal evidence
Not all doctors feel that using cannabis to help wean addicts off opioids is a wild idea. Massachusetts practitioner Dr. Gary Witman says that he has successfully helped more than 15 patients to kick the habit using cannabis as a medication. According to his report, there have been no relapses, an unusual state of affairs in drug rehabilitation, especially when opioids enter the equation.
Nevertheless, Witman’s evidence is not a scientific trial and does not deal with sufficiently large numbers of patients or sufficient amounts of hard evidence for any objective conclusion to be drawn.
Legislators warn against pushing for ‘too much too soon’. So although the accounts of cannabis being used to treat addiction may be interesting, they are at best an indication of a possible research direction to be pursued in future. For the present, the approach to addiction treatment remains the same as ever: consult your doctor to discover your treatment options and make decisions based on the information provided.