Politicians Don't Understand How Cannabis Can Help Address The Opioid Epidemic

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

I was disappointed to read a statement in a recent news story where Tennessee State Senator / Lt. Governor Randy McNally was quoted as saying he was unaware of any scientific evidence that cannabis was potentially helpful in terms of addressing the opioid overdose epidemic. 

I had previously met with Mr. McNally and had provided him with copies of just this type of published research.  

In a recent update to a web page on cannabis’s medical uses, the National Institute on Drug Abuse “found an association between medical marijuana legalization and a reduction in overdose deaths from opioid pain relievers, an effect that strengthened in each year following the implementation of legislation.” 

A second federally-funded study “showed that legally protected access to medical marijuana dispensaries is associated with lower levels of opioid prescribing, lower self-report of non-medical prescription opioid use, lower treatment admissions for prescription opioid use disorders and reduction in prescription opioid overdose deaths.” Further, the latter study demonstrated that “the reduction in deaths was present only in states with active dispensaries (not just medical marijuana laws). 

Two systematic review articles evaluating the use of cannabis and cannabinoid compounds for the treatment of non-cancer chronic pain were published in 2011 and 2015.  Together, they found that 22 of 29 high quality randomized, controlled clinical trials demonstrated safe and effective treatment outcomes with cannabis. 

A Quinnipiac poll released in April showed that 94 percent of the U.S. public support medical marijuana. 

Persons who oppose tightly regulated dispensing of cannabis for specific conditions often argue that the risk to public health outweighs any possible benefit. A review of the evidence accumulated from states that have provided a medical cannabis option for their citizens to date has not supported this concern. 

Hopefully the upcoming Tennessee legislative task force on this topic will shed light on the issue and result in progress during the next legislative session.   However, I fear that no progress will be made unless additional public pressure is brought to bear on our elected officials.  

Matthew Hine, M.D., M.P.H. 

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