Celebrity physician Dr. Oz recently devoted part of his show towards reviewing the evidence that marijuana could combat the opioid crisis.
“In fact, twelve states have more opioid pain pill prescriptions than people,”
Dr. Oz said during the show’s opening monologue.
“But in states with legal medical marijuana… fewer opioids are being prescribed.”
He asked his audience, “Is marijuana the new gateway out of opioid addiction?
Since 1999, the prescribing of opioids has increased 400 percent, and the fatalities have kept pace. Opioids are responsible for more deaths than any other prescription medication, and there is a clear link to prescription opioids as a gateway drug to heroin. The epidemic has actually reduced the life expectancy of working-class white Americans.
Dr. Oz mentioned the term, “reefer rehab,” in reference to using cannabis to treat opioid addiction. Recent research has shown the ability for cannabis to mimic the high provided by opioids, but without the harmful side effects and withdrawal symptoms, which can be fatal by themselves. Oz’s guest Dr. Krishna Andavalu is the host of Weediquette, and shared his experience in observing the treatment of opioid abuse with cannabis. Oz asked Andavalu, “are you just exchanging one high for another?” when using cannabis as a treatment. Andavalu admits he had the exact same question.
As Dr. Oz explained, the withdrawal symptoms of opioids are what enforce the cycle of addiction. Symptoms like vomiting, nausea, tremors, and acute pain can be so severe that patients will seek out opioids simply to alleviate their suffering, with the high no longer being the priority. Psychological symptoms like anxiety and paranoia can be even stronger and accentuate the physical symptoms. Cannabis can help the withdrawal process alleviating these symptoms. A patient observed by Andavalu was given roughly 250mg of THC in the form of Rick Simpson oil. In comparison, the recommended dose of THC for an adult is 10mg.
Dr. Oz questioned the rehab facility in Maine visited by Andavalu, wondering if its unregulated status and experimental program could be more hurtful than helpful. “Because the federal government doesn’t recognize marijuana as medicinally beneficial, the FDA and traditional medical science kind of can’t do the innovation that brings new techniques and new ideas into substance abuse control and rehabilitation,” said Andavalu. Medical marijuana was legalized in Maine in 1999, and legalized recreational marijuana earlier this year.
“Until it’s legal, physicians are boxed off from studying the material.” said Oz.
Government-sponsored research into the medical benefits of marijuana have been limited by funding and regulation. There is also enormous political pressure from all three branches of the government. Attorney Jeff Sessions has compared marijuana to heroin, and believes the health benefits of marijuana to be over-hyped. President Donald Trump has acknowledged that marijuana may have some medical benefits, but has mostly left the country to decide for itself by treating it as a state issue. While there is a growing number of politicians in support of legalizing marijuana completely, they are still in the minority.