Marijuana advocates have long supported the use of cannabis for the treatment of pain. State lawmakers, at least in Colorado, New York and Illinois, have finally decided to give the people what they want giving the green light to doctors to prescribe marijuana for the management of pain. Doctors can do the same in Illinois through a state pilot program that focuses on using cannabis to lower opioid use.
It’s a substantial change from the laws in most states, which allow medical marijuana use for a narrow list of conditions. Typically, they include epileptic seizures and the discomfort and pain associated with treatment for cancer or AIDS.
One of the main drivers behind the change is the opioid epidemic.
A possible solution to the opioid epidemic.
Colorado Rep. Edie Hooton, who sponsored the bill in the Rocky Mountain State, said his bill was not intended to promote marijuana as a replacement for opioids. But he is glad it provides doctors a way to discuss alternatives.
The new law will “give physicians a legal, open option to discuss [medical marijuana use] with patients,” he told NBC. “It normalizes the conversation around the issue.”
Illinois has an Opioid Alternative Pilot Program that already has 2,000 patients involved. The program allows access to medical marijuana for anyone who is eligible to get a prescription for opioids.
Patients pay a $10 fee every 90 days to keep their registration updated. They are allowed to purchase 2.5 ounces of medical cannabis every 14 days.
Will any of this work?
If nothing else, the program in Illinois and the decisions in Colorado and New York may provide researchers another way to test the impact of medical marijuana on opioid use. So far, tests have fallen on both sides of the argument
A study in Minnesota that involved switching patients from opioids to cannabis use for chronic pain management resulted in more than 60 percent of the patients reducing or stopping opioid use. They also reported that it helped reduce their anxiety and helped them to sleep better.
However, another recent study found no correlation between using medical marijuana and lower use of opioids.
People are hoping marijuana can help stem the tide of opioid-related deaths. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that in 2017, 70,000 people died of opioid overdose. Of those, about 68 percent involved either a prescription opioid or an “illicit opioid.”
The CDC estimates that between 1996 and 2017, almost 218,000 people died in the U.S. from prescription opioid overdose. The rate of overdose deaths in 2017 was five times higher than the rate in 1999.