Hundreds of people in Massachusetts who are addicted to opioids are being treated with medical marijuana, according to the Boston Herald.
"We have a statewide epidemic of opioid deaths," said Dr. Gary Witman of Canna Care Docs, a network of facilities that qualifies patients into medical marijuana programs in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Maine, Connecticut, Delaware and the District of Columbia. "As soon as we can get people off opioids to a nonaddicting substance — and medicinal marijuana is nonaddicting — I think it would dramatically impact the amount of opioid deaths."
Witman, who works in a Massachusetts Canna Care clinic, has treated about 80 patients who were addicted to opioids, anti-anxiety medication or muscle relaxers with cannabis through a one-month tapering program. More than three-quarters of patients stopped taking the harder drugs, he told the newspaper.
Witman said cannabis can be a safer alternative for managing the symptoms patients had been using opioids to treat, such as chronic pain or anxiety.
Another Massachusetts physician, Dr. Harold Altvater, said he has also successfully used medical marijuana as a substitute for other medications. "You are basically taking something that can be very harmful for an individual, and substituting it with another chemical, just like you would any other drug, that has a wider safety margin," he said. "So if the goal is to decrease the body count ... the goal would be to get them on to a chemical that was safer."
Some doctors say cannabis substitution therapy needs extensive followup. "It might be an exit drug for some, or an entry drug for others," said Dr. Anil Kumar. "If you don't have a way of monitoring this patient who is saying 'give me marijuana and I will stop taking narcotics,' they may do both."