As the United States struggles with an ongoing opioid epidemic that is undoubtedly fueled by the pharmaceutical industry, many people are coming forward in favor of cannabis as a viable option to replace prescription drugs altogether. While this is not a new idea to many cannabis consumers who have experienced firsthand the healing benefits of marijuana, it has never been widely accepted or contemplated in the mainstream – more specifically, in the federal government.
It appears the tides are changing however, as government officials are seemingly becoming more open to the idea of cannabis as a solution to the opioid crisis.
The US Government Talks Cannabis
Recently, in a Senate subcommittee hearing titled “Addressing the Opioid Crisis in America: Prevention, Treatment and Recovery” cannabis was brought up not once, but twice in the discussion. Although marijuana did not dominate the hearing, it is important to recognize the shift beginning to occur. Where cannabis used to be brushed aside as a ludicrous solution, it is now being recognized by leaders of the United States as a possible remedy to the nation’s opioid crisis.
While this is certainly good news for supporters of cannabis legalization, it also creates an interesting paradox.
Cannabis is still a schedule I substance, meaning it has no medicinal value in the eyes of the federal government. See where we’re going here?
If the government is entertaining the idea that cannabis may help curb the opioid epidemic, then they are also admitting there might be some medicinal value to the plant after all. Semantics aside, it’s becoming increasingly tough defend marijuana’s schedule I status. In fact, occurrences like this could even be used to argue that cannabis deserves to be rescheduled, if not de-scheduled and removed from the Controlled Substances Act altogether. Enough speculation though, let’s dive into what the hearing members had to say.
Takeaways from the Hearing
It took just over one hour for the subcommittee members to bring up the medical application of cannabis in relation to the opioid epidemic. In a question directed toward Dr. Francis Collins, the Director of the National Institute of Health (NIH), Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) cited a recent study conducted by the NIH which found states with legalized medical cannabis had a nearly 25% lower annual opioid overdose mortality rate.
Because of the alarming discrepancy between states with medical cannabis laws and those without, Senator Merkley added to his initial inquiry by questioning Dr. Collins if there have been any correlations peaking the interest of researchers and if cannabis is being pursued as an alternative pain strategy.
Dr. Collins met Senator Merkley’s question with another question, claiming that the NIH is indeed aware and intrigued by the study’s findings, however, they do not yet know if the correlation between medical cannabis and lowered opioid overdose deaths is actually a causation. He went on to say that in their studying of alternative pain strategies, cannabinoid receptors in the brain and their connection with the body’s pain mechanism have been a point of interest and they expect to explore them in “greater intensity.”
Dr. Collins also noted the difficulties researchers have when dealing with schedule I substances.
He even went on to request a policy change to create special exemptions allowing more research to be conducted on schedule I substances. Although it’s a bit of a let-down there was no mention of rescheduling cannabis, it’s definitely exciting to see these issues and roadblocks being discussed.
The next mention of cannabis did not occur until roughly one hour after its initial appearance, this time brought up by Senator Jerry Moran (R-KS). He noted that in a recent Veterans Affairs (VA) hearing, a number of Veterans Organizations have come out in support of medical cannabis. He questioned the efficacy of medical marijuana and asked Dr. Collins of about the state of research surrounding veterans and cannabis.
Unfortunately, Dr. Collins still believes that the benefits remain unclear – despite citing that the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has a “significant research portfolio” on the matter. However, he did mention the current data shows encouraging signs that medical cannabis may be evidentially supported to treat a number of conditions and that they will be actively pursuing further research into the matter.
The Future of Cannabis
Even if the support for cannabis is not yet unanimous, the comments on cannabis made during the Senate subcommittee hearing are certainly a promising step toward fulfilling the need more cannabis research in the future.
It’s great to see progress, even if it’s minimal, from the US government and hopefully researchers will begin to realize the full medical potential of cannabis as they dive deeper into their studies. Until then, we have a duty to keep spreading cannabis success stories to help get the word out and end the opioid epidemic once and for all.
Do you think cannabis is a useful alternative to opioids and prescription drugs? Why or why not?