CLEVELAND – A doctor and a professor in Ohio are of the opinion that medical cannabis should be used to treat opioid addiction in a state where a record number of overdose deaths were reported last year.
Dr. F. Stuart Leeds has prepared data and research to present to the State Medical Board in Ohio as he wants to expand the list of conditions for which doctors can recommend medicinal cannabis. Leeds recognizes the limited data, but said that some of the most meaningful research comes from his patients, some of whom are involved in opioid addiction.
"Patients have been self-experimenting with various street drugs for decades," said Leeds, who practices and teaches family medicine at Wright State University outside Dayton. "You know more about what marijuana will do for chronic pain and addiction problems than we do."
Leeds is on the Register of Ohio physicians who recommend, but can not prescribe, medical marijuana for 21 qualified diseases such as epilepsy and chronic pain. Opioid Disease is currently a qualifying disease in three other medical marijuana states: New York, Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
The Ohio Medical Board accepts petitions to record qualification requirements by the end of the year and will consult with experts before making a decision next year. Cannabis products are expected to be available in Ohio in the coming months after the program has been delayed.
Some experts do not think treating marijuana opioid addiction is a good idea. Mark Hurst, Director of the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services in Ohio. Hurst declined an interview with The Associated Press, but told the Cincinnati Enquirer in August, "There is no scientific evidence that marijuana is an effective treatment for opioid dependence."
Brad Lander, a clinical psychologist in the Addiction Medicine Unit at Ohio State University's Wexner Medical Center, is also skeptical. He said that marijuana compromises judgment, motor control, and memory, and is associated with an amotivation syndrome that causes apathy and reduces interest in activities.
"Patients who smoke marijuana do not have the real motivation to undergo therapy to recover in the long term or to improve their lives," Lander told the AP.
Lander agrees with Leeds that there may be a short-term use for medical marijuana: relief of severe withdrawal symptoms by losing buprenorphine, an opiate-like drug used by humans to ward off the craving for heroin and prescription painkillers.
Lander said he was also open to the possibility of using CBD oil, which contains only small amounts of the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, which makes the user effective once it has proven to be effective in treating addiction.
Ohio had one of the highest per capita overdose deaths in the country, with opioids contributing to more than 4,800 unwanted fatal overdoses last year. Leeds, who will ask the Medical Board to add anxiety as a qualifying condition, found that, unlike opioids, it is virtually impossible to die from a marijuana overdose.
In a suburb of Dayton, John Helpling said he had used a variety of prescription pain medications in 2007 with peripheral neuropathy and burning pain in the foot following a lower back operation. The 57-year-old said the pain pills "make me pretty useless."
He started CBD oil and marijuana earlier this year and believes that he is on the way to putting his life right. He said he stopped taking prescription drugs in April and talked to his doctor about buying legal cannabis products once they're available in Ohio.
"I feel better now," said Helpling. "I feel healthier. I feel like I have more purpose. "
Cannabis products should be available on September 8, but the date has been postponed due to delays in applying for and certifying companies that grow, test and sell marijuana products. Helpling said he would prefer to buy legal medical marijuana that has been tested for contaminants and toxic pesticides, something that is not guaranteed for street-acquired marijuana.
Leeds acknowledges that there is limited data on whether cannabis can help treat opioid addiction, and that doctors need to examine "what could be the lesser evil".
"I think we need to approach with some concern," he said. "But we can not pretend that this medicine has no value. This is clearly a myth. "