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According to Portland Press-Herald, around 350,000 Maine-based patients were prescribed opioid medication in 2014. As a result, drug overdoses in the state jumped from 155 (in 2011) and 208 (in 2014) to 272 (in 2015).

The answer to this growing problem could be medical marijuana. In order to curb the lethal trend, Maine is considering extending its marijuana laws to treat opiate and heroin addiction. Currently, medical cannabis is legal in the state, but only for a handful of conditions, including cancer, chronic pain and seizures (just to name a few). To support this solution, a public hearing was requested by representatives from the local medical community, including Dawson Julia, a caregiver from Unity.

Reducing Overdose Risks

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During a meeting with the Maine Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), Julia highlighted that in states where medical marijuana is legal, opiate overdose deaths are lower by up to 25 percent. When both (cannabis and opioids) are taken during treatment, marijuana might be able to offset the need to load up on prescription meds. This could ease reliance on prescription painkillers, and ultimately curtail overdose rates in the state. Since (to date), no one has died from a weed overdose, patients can confidently partake in the plant and find relief for their illness.

“[when taking opioid-based medicine] Quality of life goes up in the beginning but often ends in a downgrade when you factor in all the side effects and addiction after time,” explained Julia. “Addiction is guaranteed if you continue use of these drugs for a duration of time. Sometimes only months will accomplish addiction.”

Joseph Legendre, a Mount Vernon local suffering from 26 years of unbearable back pain, also spoke about his experience with medical marijuana. His encounter with the herb helped him overcome serious chronic pain issues associated with his job in the construction sector. Britney Lashier, a Saco resident, provided a testimony about how cannabis helped her overcome a heroin addiction while studying overseas.

The DHHS is accepting comments and feedback about the petition until May 3. Officials have 180 days to respond to the requests made during the public hearing.

Cannabis Therapeutic Index

Studies indicate that cannabis has a therapeutic index of 40,000:1, which means that an individual would need to take 40,000 regular doses of marijuana to reach lethal levels. No one has come close to that threshold, and most people who try, end up falling asleep- an effective way to “reset” an overwhelming high. By comparison, painkillers, such as morphine, have a therapeutic index of 70:1.

“We clearly have a major public health issue and we don’t currently have a good solution to it,” said Dr. Dustin Sulak, a Falmouth-based doctor and leading expert in Maine on medical marijuana. “Cannabis alone isn’t enough to completely solve this epidemic, but we need a treatment that can replace the opioids.”

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