CDC Should Consider Marijuana as Alternative to Opioids

By Ellen Lenox Smith, Columnist

Presently in our country, those that are successfully using opioids for pain relief are feeling dirty and lost -- largely due to fears about addiction and  overdoses. Pain patients often have to cope with physicians who are reluctant to prescribe opioids and pharmacies that are sometimes unwilling to fill their prescriptions.

The Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC) is considering new guidelines that would encourage doctors to shift even further away from prescribing opioids, leaving the patient with little effective medication to turn to.

Why is the CDC not even considering the use of medical marijuana to help these people in need?

The Boston Herald recently reported that hundreds of opioid addicts are being treated successfully in Massachusetts with medical marijuana.

“We have a statewide epidemic of opioid deaths,” said Dr. Gary Witman of Canna Care Docs, which issues medical marijuana cards in seven states. “As soon as we can get people off opioids to a non-addicting substance — and medicinal marijuana is non addicting — I think it would dramatically impact the amount of opioid deaths.”

Witman is treating about 80 patients at a Canna Care clinic who are addicted to opioids, muscle relaxants or anti-anxiety medications. After enrolling them in a one-month tapering program and treating them with cannabis, Witman says more than 75 percent of the patients have stopped taking the harder drugs. Medical marijuana gave them relief from pain and anxiety — and far more safely than opioids.

Patients across the country are also learning they can use cannabis for pain relief, decreasing or even eliminating their use of opioids.  Marijuana works far better than other substitutes since it is not synthetic and does not cause organ damage or deaths like opioids can in some circumstances.

Medical marijuana works naturally on what is known as the “endocannabinoid system,” binding to neurological receptors in the brain that control appetite, pain sensation, mood and memory.

Here in Rhode Island, my husband and I have witnessed the amazing transition of pain patients on opioids that chose to transition to medical marijuana.  Most that turn to cannabis do so to eliminate the side effects of opioids and concerns about their long term use. They still achieve pain relief but know they are gaining that relief in a safer manner -- no organ damage, no teeth getting destroyed, no concerns of addiction and no deaths.

Marijuana may still be illegal at the federal level, but it is legal in 23 states and the District of Columbia, and millions of people are discovering its therapeutic benefits. The CDC should consider adding medical marijuana to the list of “non-opioid” therapies in its guidelines.

Ellen Lenox Smith and her husband Stuart live in Rhode Island. They are co-directors for medical marijuana advocacy for the U.S. Pain Foundation and serve as board members for the Rhode Island Patient Advocacy Coalition. 

For more information about medical marijuana, visit their website.

The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represents the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.

Medical marijuana is legal in 23 U.S. states and the District of Columbia, but is still technically illegal under federal law. Even in states where it is legal, doctors may frown upon marijuana and drop patients from their practice for using it.