In a historic move, Pennsylvania became the first state in the United States to add opioid addiction on the list of qualifying conditions to be treated with medical marijuana along with three other conditions – neurodegenerative diseases, terminal illness, and dyskinetic and spastic movement disorders.
Owing to the medical benefits of marijuana, the substance has been legalized in in some form or the other in 29 American states and the District of Columbia. Of late, the drug has found its use in the treatment of conditions like epileptic seizures, anxiety, muscle spasms and others. However, of all the states, it’s Pennsylvania that is leading the way and expanding the horizons of their medical marijuana program.
In this regard, the Pennsylvania state authorities clarified that instead of being the first line of treatment for opioid addiction, medical cannabis will be prescribed to patients either in conjunction with other medications and therapies or only when other treatments fail to give the desired relief.
“We’re making medical marijuana available to patients if all other treatments fail, or if a physician recommends that it can be used in conjunction with other traditional therapies,” said Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine.
The move comes at a time when the entire country is making efforts to combat the worsening opioid epidemic. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Pennsylvania ranked fourth among the top five U.S. states that recorded the highest rates of death due to opioid overdose in 2016.
Controversies around medical marijuana use capable of curbing opioid abuse
So far, medical cannabis has mostly been used to treat conditions like depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), multiple sclerosis, respiratory diseases and even cancer. However, what has caught the interest of many researchers and experts is its effectiveness in alleviating pain. Many are of the view that prescribing marijuana in place of painkillers can help in curtailing the rampant use of opioids. Supporting the same, a study found medical cannabis use to be associated with an overall 64 percent decrease in opioid use in Michigan, while accounting for 45 percent improvement in the quality of life.
Meanwhile, many studies have found medical cannabis to be effective in preventing opioid tolerance building and reducing the symptoms of opioid withdrawal. However, these suggestions stand contradicted by another set of experts who highlighted the presence of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in marijuana that has the potential to cause substance abuse disorder and other mental disorders in the user.
Seeking help for opioid addiction
With 115 people succumbing to opioid overdose every day in the U.S., it is important not only to warn the new users about the long-term harmful effects of opioid abuse, but also to put in place various measures that would discourage users. At the same time, it is equally important to encourage people suffering from opioid addiction to seek professional help at the earliest. Treating opioid addiction is a challenge, as the user is always at the risk of suffering from relapses even while undergoing the treatment. In such cases, it becomes difficult to manage the opioid withdrawal symptoms. Currently, people with opioid addiction are treated with buprenorphine, methadone, and injectable naltrexone, as the condition can be managed better with agonist treatment.
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