Maryland looks to medical cannabis as potential treatment to combat rise in opioid-related deaths

Bethan Rose Jenkins, Cannabis News Writer/Editorial

A rising number of medical cannabis patient advocates and physicians are admitting that weed-based treatments should be added to the list of available treatment options for opioid addiction under Maryland’s medical cannabis bill.

Numerous studies have demonstrated a reduction in opioid cravings after patients use cannabis, not to mention a reduction in the unpleasant withdrawal symptoms associated with opioid addiction.

These facts have come to the attention of Maryland lawmakers, where medical cannabis is currently illegal. If lawmakers come to a positive conclusion regarding the legalization of medical cannabis to combat opioid-abuse disorder, the U.S. State will follow in the footsteps of Pennsylvania, New York, and New Jersey.

However, efforts to legalize medical cannabis in Maryland have been opposed by many medical professionals.

Why? They believe the research to demonstrate cannabis’ efficacy as a treatment is not sufficient for legalization to ensue; warning lawmakers that around nine percent of cannabis consumers may become addicted to the plant.

Supporters of Maryland’s cannabis bill are concerned about federal restrictions

In spite of the magnanimous support that Maryland’s cannabis bill is receiving, supporters are worried that large-scale research at the federal level is not likely to happen; so long as the plant remains in the Schedule I drug category.

This schedule is the harshest of them all. It places cannabis next to highly addictive and dangerous mind-altering substances such as heroin.

It’s about time cannabis is rescheduled, considering the fact that Schedule I drugs are deemed to have zero medical value and a high potential for abuse.

Maryland’s cannabis bill has not been scheduled for a committee vote

Last year, Maryland’s medical cannabis commission investigated the issue. Members of the commission came to the conclusion that there is “no credible scientific evidence” that cannabis can treat opioid addiction.

On the other hand, U.S. States that have implemented medical cannabis laws have noticed a reduction in the number of opioid prescriptions for pain – an argument that could propel Maryland’s cannabis bill in the right direction.

The proof? Studies have indicated a reduction in fatal opioid overdoses in medical cannabis-friendly states.

A 2011 study published in the journal Clinical Pharmacology & Therapeutics demonstrated pain-relieving properties when clients were administered with the following active cannabinoids:

  • Delta-9 Tetrahydrocannabinol (Delta-9 THC)
  • Cannabidiol (CBD)
  • Cannabinol (CBN)
  • Tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV)

Commission did not provide a clear recommendation on Maryland’s medical cannabis bill

Adding cannabis in Maryland to the list of qualifying medical conditions for opioid misuse and addiction could face some obstacles. Perhaps lawmakers will pay attention to the fact that opioid-related overdose deaths skyrocketed 1,185 in the state in the first half of last year. This is based on recent data.

A significant portion of those opioid-related overdose deaths was linked to fentanyl. This drug, despite being synthetic, is often 50 times stronger than heroin.

Supporters of Maryland’s medical cannabis bill say that the rising number of opioid overdose deaths is a clear indication that new solutions are needed.

Yes, there needs to be more research,” said patient advocate and chief financial officer (CFO) for ForwardGro, Gail Rand, adding that “we believe there is enough research, especially considering the urgent need.”

People are educated enough now to understand that medical cannabis can help with pain, but until it becomes brought to the public’s attention more, I don’t think it’s a go-to to deal with opioid-abuse disorder,” Rand said in an interview. “And it should be.”