Can Medical Marijuana Be Used to Treat Substance Use Disorder?

Medical marijuana is currently used in Michigan to treat a variety of ailments, including cancer, glaucoma, arthritis, post-traumatic stress disorder, and more. While there are undeniable health benefits of medical marijuana, will cannabis ever be used to treat substance use disorder (SUD)?

The Evidence Is Limited But Growing

There is a lack of scientific evidence in regards to using cannabis for addiction treatment. However, there are ongoing studies and projects funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse to determine whether or not medical marijuana is safe and effective for treating severe addictions to heroinopioidsmethamphetamine, or cocaine.

There are studies that prove components of the marijuana plant have therapeutic medical value. According to the Journal of Pain, roughly two-thirds of a sample of former prescription opioid patients in Michigan started using medical cannabis in the substitution of opioids. Similarly, recent research finds that the use of all pain medications decreases in Medicare Part D and Medicaid populations when states approve medical cannabis laws (MCLs).

Overall, the medical community remains skeptical regarding replacing opioid treatment with cannabis. Much less using cannabis as a treatment option for opioid use disorder (ODD). However, 33 states and the District of Columbia currently legalize medical marijuana and 10 states legalize adult-use cannabis. Furthermore, it’s safe to say that research should gain momentum as widespread support for cannabis legalization increases.

Cannabis As Harm Reduction

One of the predominant theories advocating the use of cannabis for addiction treatment is the idea of harm reduction, which places a strong emphasis on respecting the people who use drugs. The goal is to help people facing drug problems, including those entangled in the legal system, live healthier lives without fear of punishment or stigma.

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Some treatment centers in the U.S. already support this idea. One California treatment center uses cannabis for detoxing from hard drugs, which they say can help with the transition from addiction to abstinence. However, most treatment centers adopt an abstinence-based approach, unless it’s a form of medication-assisted treatment.

 

Source: National Institute on Drug Abuse

In 2017, there were 2,033 overdose deaths involving opioids in Michigana rate of 21.2 deaths per 100,000 persons, which is higher than the national rate of 14.6 deaths per 100,000 persons. With the recent adult-use marijuana legalization in Michigan, it will be interesting to see if there is any correlation between a regulated cannabis industry and lower rates of opioid overdose deaths in the next few years.

Cannabis As Medication-Assisted Treatment

Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is commonly used to address alcohol and opioid use disorders. This involves the use of FDA-approved medications, like disulfiram or methadone, to help alleviate withdrawal symptoms and move people away from alcohol or opioid use.

While MAT is evidence-based and scientifically proven to be effective, there are risks involved. Methadone, for instance, is addictive and can cause more severe and long-lasting withdrawal symptoms than other opioids. Some researchers believe cannabis can be a safer alternative for medication-assisted treatment.

The Benefits Of CBD For Opioid Use Disorder

For OUD, cannabis has the potential to prevent abuse, ease withdrawal symptoms, and reduce the risk of relapse down the road. Evidence suggests that CBD, or cannabidiol, can have a positive effect on reducing opioid misuse. CBD doesn’t produce the same intoxicating effects as THC, so there is a low-risk for abuse.

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Some studies have also found CBD can lessen the rewarding effects of other drugs with a high risk for addiction, including nicotine, methamphetamine, and cocaine. While there has been confusion regarding the regulation of CBD in Michigan, LARA announced last month that CBD products will no longer be regulated like marijuana. It doesn’t matter if the products are sourced from hemp or marijuana plants; as long as the THC concentration is below 0.3 percent.

Will Medical Marijuana Ever Be Used To Treat Addiction In Michigan?

Pennsylvania and New Jersey have formally added OUD to the list of conditions that qualify people for medical marijuana. The following states are currently making efforts to do the same:

  • Arizona
  • Maine
  • New Hampshire
  • New Mexico
  • New York
  • Ohio

While many clinicians and treatment, providers will remain skeptical about using cannabis to treat SUD, look for Michigan to support its efficacy in the years to come. Until then, marijuana is still considered a Schedule 1 drug at the federal level. If you find yourself in legal trouble for impaired driving under the influence of marijuana, possession or trafficking offenses, the Law Offices of Barton Morris is prepared to fight for you.