Medical Marijuana Takes On Alcoholism, Opioids, and PTSD

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By Kenya Confidential Medical Correspondent, New York – October 11, 2018

When it comes to medical marijuana, it isn’t just the new regulations and businesses that are largely untested.

Thanks to the antiquated law that puts it on the same level as heroin, crack, and somehow even above the pain medications that are causing spiraling overdose deaths, federal funding has long placed massive burdens on medical marijuana research.

Slowly but surely, that is changing. Though the bureaucratic requirements for funding haven’t changed, outside funding is starting to fill in the gaps.

Some of the findings have been surprising to medical marijuana’s detractors and supporters alike.

Take, for example, a recent report from the American Journal of Public Healththat looked at traffic fatalities, one of the leading causes of death around the globe, and especially in the U.S.A. and other developed nations.

It found that, on average, states which adopted medical marijuana laws also saw large drops in traffic fatalities based on two decades’ worth of national data — 26% lower for states with the laws than those without them, and an 11% reduction since the laws were passed.

That isn’t the only surprise, either. The same states have seen a 25% reduction in opioid deaths as well.

So what is going on here?

The researchers couldn’t say for certain, with all the factors in play, but the findings suggest that a large part of these improvements come from a drop in self-medication with some of the most addictive drugs ever created.

Let’s face it, medication costs are soaring while people’s ability to pay for them is getting worse. Even good people are desperate, and are increasingly turning to desperate measures for any relief, real or perceived.

The same goes for chronic conditions, like PTSD, which can mean months, years, and decades of need to handle symptoms.

Thanks to just a slight thaw in research, we’re starting to see early evidence that medical marijuana will have a role in addressing the biggest public health issues of our time.

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Putting Down the Bottle

I’m sure every adult is familiar with how pervasive alcoholism is, and the terrible impact it has on individuals and communities.

And while it may take years to build up to severe alcoholism, it can take just as long to break, if that ever happens.

Alcohol treatment program relapse within just six months is around 50%. The worst patients end up requiring powerful and addictive drugs just to stave off the effects of alcohol withdrawal, which can kill on their own.

Take benzodiazepines, for example. People who need them often have already been hospitalized, and require additional costly visits to doctors’ offices and the pharmacy.

And the side effects of benzodiazepines and alcohol compound each other, making any relapse while taking the drugs immediately life-threatening.

Thankfully, early evidence suggests that medical marijuana is a far better substitute for pharmaceuticals as far as safety and patient quality of life are concerned.

A survey compiling self-reported addiction treatment and relapse rates among substance users, “Cannabis as a Substitute for Alcohol and Other Drugs” in the Harm Reduction Journal, found that respondents used cannabis to curb their alcohol cravings, as an alternative to previous use of prescription drugs, and even as a substitute for more potent drugs such as cocaine.

57.4% of respondents chose to use cannabis because it provided better symptom management as well.

Secondly, alcohol is the go-to drug of choice for self-medication for psychological conditions.

Alcohol recovery programs are increasingly using marijuana to provide a substitute with no risk of addiction during the critical early days of alcohol recovery.

As Dina Fine Maron, a medicine and health editor at Scientific American, told PRI last year, “Really, if we stopped medical marijuana programs that are now in place in 30 states and Washington, DC… the science suggests we would worsen the opioid epidemic.”

She went on to explain that states with medical marijuana programs have fewer opioid overdose-related deaths than states without medical marijuana — 25% fewer, according to a 2014 study cited in her article.

Then there is University of Georgia public policy professor W. David Bradford. His studies on how legal medical marijuana impacts prescription drug use by Medicare and Medicaid enrollees found, “…significant reductions in prescription use, most notably among pain medications, and the largest plurality of those would be opiates.”

With over 90 opioid overdoses a day, we’re talking about a massive effect on this iteration of the drug abuse epidemic.

And with a self-reporting study from Amanda Reiman of the School of Social Welfare at the University of California, Berkley, showing that 97% of medical marijuana patients agreed that they are able to decrease the amounts of opiates they consume, and 81% stating that marijuana by itself was more effective at treating their condition than taking it with opioids, there is a huge potential to further reduce addiction and fatalities.

Effective PTSD Treatment, At Long Last

Perhaps the clearest need for more research is in treating PTSD with medical marijuana, but anecdotal evidence is abundant, and pressure from veterans and doctors is intense.

22 of the 30 states that have legalized medical marijuana now include post-traumatic stress as a qualifying condition. More than 900 doctors and other practitioners have enrolled with the Health Department to certify their patients.

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One of them is Marine Corps veteran Ed Erdos. He talked to the St. Cloud Timesabout his experience. Not only does it provide relief from pain and muscle spasms caused by injuries from a helicopter crash, but also helps with anxiety and fear that had kept him “bunkered up” for five years.

“The best part of PTSD treatment with medical cannabis is, it allows you to slow down. You don’t experience the anxiety attacks,” Erdos said “It allows you to think. It allows you to face some of those triggers that many PTSD victims are afraid to face.”

The alternative with current pharmaceuticals is far worse. As Army First Sergeant Gregory Westbrook described to Leafly.com:

“The drugs that they were giving them… they couldn’t get up in the mornings. Most of the guys weren’t the type of soldiers who had issues before Iraq or even in Iraq, but they bring them back and put them on these drugs, and they’re falling asleep in the chair. There was no way they could function, especially in a civilian job. So maybe marijuana is an alternative.”

Nothing But Positives

As time goes on, we’ll see more and more rigorous, double-blind studies on the topic. Along with it, we’re bound to see better treatments, and more positive outcomes, than we’ve seen to date.

And how couldn’t we?

We treat one addiction with other addictive substances that cost small fortunes.

We make veterans wait for expensive treatments that do not address the full spectrum of their problems and leave them practically catatonic.

And we’ve all but thrown up our hands and given up on problems like drunk driving and opioid addiction because they’ve been too hard and pervasive to handle to date.

No amount of legislation or draconian legal punishment stemmed some of the deadliest scourges we face.

We’ve come to the point where, at last, the science is catching up and public sentiment is turning permanently positive with it.

94% of Americans now support medical marijuana use. The DEA even recently approved marijuana imports from Canada for clinical testing.