Activists are lobbying for greater access to medical marijuana for a wide array of conditions, including to help fight opioid and heroin addiction ravaging New Jersey.
Officials from the state’s health department listened to testimony Wednesday from parents with children suffering from debilitating conditions like severe epilepsy and from those impacted by the opioid epidemic. A panel of medical professionals are deliberating expanding the state’s medical marijuana program to include 20 more conditions including opioid addiction disorder, chronic pain and migraines and are expected to make a decision in the coming months. Opioid addiction is rampant in the state and patients treated for chronic conditions with painkillers can often fall into a pattern of abuse, reports Philly.com.
Steven Jenison, a paramedic from Rio Arriba County, New Mexico, which has one of the highest heroin overdose death rates in the country, testified to the success of the state’s medical marijuana program to fight addiction. Jenison says legal weed is having a big impact on opioid abuse since the state added chronic pain as a qualifying condition for medical pot in 2009.
“Prescription of opioids has gone down significantly,” Jenison testified Wednesday, according to Philly.com. “Of all the conditions for which there is a good basis in science for using cannabis, chronic pain is it.”
GOP Gov. Chris Christie declared the opioid epidemic a public health crisis Jan. 17 in New Jersey, which has a death rate from heroin higher than the national average. There are roughly 128,000 heroin addicts in the state and health experts fear that number is likely growing. Heroin deaths spiked 22 percent between 2014 and 2015 and the state doubled the national drug overdose death rate with 1,600 fatalities in 2015.
Connecticut is currently conducting two studies, one with federal funds and another at the state level, investigating marijuana’s potential benefit as an alternative painkiller in light of the opioid epidemic.
Researchers from the University of British Columbia studied the relationship between marijuana-use and mental health and tested its interaction with different illnesses. The findings, published in Clinical Psychology Review in November, suggest marijuana is a helpful tool for those suffering addictions to more harmful substances, like prescription painkillers.
A separate study conducted by Dr. Daniel Clauw, a professor at the University of Michigan, found that patients who were treated for chronic pain with both opioids and marijuana eventually pivot towards higher levels of weed consumption.
“They noted on average a two-thirds decrease in their opioid dose,” Clauw told NPR. “They also noted that they just felt a lot better overall with respect to side-effect profile when their pain was being controlled largely with cannabinoids.”
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