Treating Opioid Addiction with Cannabis

As the state of Massachusetts faces its opioid problem, local doctors are using cannabis as a gateway out of addiction. Opioid dependence over time depletes dopamine, serotonin, and endorphin levels, and more importantly, destroys families. The Journal of American Medical Association published findings that the state of Colorado saw a drop of almost 25% in opioid deaths after legalising cannabis. Most recently, Massachussetts’ doctors are using cannabis to treat opioid addiction specifically.

Dr. Gary Witman is a member of Canna Care Docs, a network of cannabis clinics in Massachusetts. “We have a statewide epidemic of opioid deaths,” Witman told the Boston Herald. “As soon as we can get people off opioids to a nonaddicting substance — and medicinal marijuana is nonaddicting — I think it would dramatically impact the amount of opioid deaths.”

Dr. Witman looked at 80 patients that were addicted to either painkillers or muscle relaxants. He says that 75 of 80 of his patients dropped hard drugs after tapering off with cannabis for one month. Witman is hopeful of the benefits cannabis can provide toward effective pain management. “Endocannabinoids are even more powerful and the therapeutic benefits are even better,” he said.

Dr. Harold Altvater of Delta 9 Medical Consulting agrees. “You are basically taking something that can be very harmful for an individual, and substituting with another chemical, just like you would any other drug, that has a wider safety margin,” he said. “So if the goal is to decrease the body count … the goal would be to get them on to a chemical that was safer.” Overdosing on cannabis is scientifically impossible.

Many doctors around the world are questioning the gateway drug theory. Dr. Anil Kumar studies pain management. “It might be an exit drug for some, or an entry drug for others,” he said. “If you don’t have a way of monitoring this patient who is saying ‘give me marijuana and I will stop taking narcotics,’ they may do both.”

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health is surprisingly supportive. They have no official policy for medical marijuana and opioid addiction. Anything is better, it could be said, than the physical addiction and strife that opiates and opioids can cause. “DPH is committed to effectively administering the medical marijuana program in order to best serve patients safely and continues to work with the administration and stakeholders on developing strategies to curb the opioid epidemic in the commonwealth,” DPH spokesman Scott Zoback said.

Doctors nowadays are seeing cannabis as a safer alternative. “What we are seeing is that, in follow-up visits, patients have decreased and even eliminated their opioids,” said Dr. Uma Dhanabalan of Uplifting Health and Wellness, “It’s a problem when we are replacing one synthetic opioid with another synthetic opioid because, guess what … synthetic opioids kill, cannabis does not.” Dr. Dhanabalan’s patient Howard Bert hasn’t taken a pill in seven weeks. “The marijuana saved my bacon from discomfort and pain every time,” he said. “My doctor told me it has something to do with receptors. All I know is, it works.”