Health

Opioids + Pot = Danger

Evidence is 'thin' that marijuana can treat narcotic addiction

It was only a matter of time until another state followed Maine’s lead.

Ohio House lawmakers on Tuesday approved the use of medical marijuana to treat opioid addiction in a 70-25 vote. The bill — House Bill 523 — now moves to the Ohio Senate.

Nearly 2,000 people died of opioid overdoses in 2014 in Ohio alone.

The new measure would create a state medical marijuana program, and would allow people to purchase and use marijuana under a doctor’s recommendation — but it would not allow smoking and growing of marijuana at home.

If passed, Ohio would be the 25th state to legalize medical marijuana. It would not be covered by health insurance. Opponents say the move creates too much red tape, and that few doctors will sign up to recommend marijuana. Medical marijuana advocates, however, are pushing for the bill, saying medical marijuana is a less addictive alternative to other drugs.

In 2014, nearly 2,000 people died of opioid overdoses in the state.

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Dr. Bertha Madras, a professor of psychobiology and the chair of the division of neurochemistry at Harvard Medical School, previously told LifeZette that the evidence of using marijuana to treat opioid addiction is “thin or non-existent.”

She noted there are two compounds in marijuana: cannabidiol and tetrahydrocannabinol. CBD may have therapeutic properties, does not have the potential for abuse potential, and could block drug-seeking behavior. It dampens anxiety and does not produce psychosis-like events. THC, on the other hand, can elevate anxiety, is intoxicating, and can produce psychosis-like events. Without regulation, it’s hard to know the compound concentrations in marijuana.

Dr. Amol Soin, a pain management doctor in Dayton, Ohio, said he would prefer to prescribe compounds of marijuana — not the whole plant, as reported on Cleveland.com.

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“This is nothing but rhetoric from the Big Marijuana industry. It reminds me of Big Tobacco 50 years ago. Same tactics, different name,” said Dr. Kevin Sabet. He is an assistant professor of psychiatry at University of Florida and former senior adviser to the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy under President Obama.

“There’s no research that marijuana is good for opioid abuse — in fact, it may worsen it by priming the brain for more drug use,” Sabet said.

Medical marijuana advocates are pushing state regulators in Maine to allow for medicinal marijuana treatment of opioid addiction.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has also asked the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to examine the effectiveness of medical marijuana as an alternative to opioids and the impact of marijuana legalization on overdose deaths, Cleveland.com reported.

Madras agrees that the matter needs to be scientifically addressed.

“The critical issue is to identify the scientific evidence that underlies this decision by Maine and Ohio,” she said. “I have yet to identify any high-quality manuscripts that show daily marijuana use to reduce daily opioid use among those with an opioid use disorder,” she added. “The preclinical literature [on rodents and monkeys] shows conflicting data … Clinical trials are needed.”

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