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In Kansas City, could medical marijuana be used to treat opioid addiction?

Posted at 6:23 PM, Nov 15, 2018
and last updated 2018-11-15 19:23:56-05

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — After Missouri voters legalized medical marijuana last week, drug addiction treatment centers in the Kansas City area are weighing how they will respond. 

At least one said that it would most likely not suggest marijuana as a treatment for opioid addiction.

Because marijuana is still listed as a Schedule 1 drug, the same category as heroin and LSD, institutions are hesitant to do clinical research.

ReDiscover, a nonprofit that provides services for people with mental illness, said what little research exists on medical marijuana in relation to substance abuse is concerning. The organization relies on the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) guidelines. 

“Their preliminary research had indicated that people who are in treatment for opioid use disorder, when they started to regularly use marijuana even if it was medically prescribed and actually increased the risk for relapse for their opioid use disorder and having other medical complications as well,” ReDiscover President and CEO Jennifer Craig said. 

Susan Whitmore, president and CEO of First Call, a substance abuse recovery center, echoed Craig in saying that people who have a predisposition for substance abuse disorders would be more likely to relapse if they used marijuana. 

“First Call does not take a stance on legalization issues. We treat anyone with alcohol or drug use regardless of whether the substance is legal or not. Most of the people we see use multiple substances, including marijuana,” Whitmore said. 

HCA Healthcare Virginia, however, cited a study that shows daily doses of painkillers decreased by 1,826 on average yearly in states that legalized medical marijuana. 

A 2014 SAMHSA communication said recent medical marijuana policies are confronting opioid treatment providers with patients wanting to know if it can be used as treatment. 

The communication links marijuana to anxiety and depression and states there is an even stronger link between marijuana use and exacerbating existing psychoses such as schizophrenia. 

Drug addictions centers also work closely with physicians when connecting patients to treatment medications. Marijuana is still illegal on the federal level, and centers and hospitals could run the risk of losing funding. 

Overall, most physicians say that not enough research has been done on the topic of medical marijuana. 

In a recent blog post, the Kansas City Medical Society said marijuana is not a prescription medication and that it generally opposes medical marijuana. However, it says the Food and Drug Administration should take marijuana off the Schedule 1 list so that proper research can be done.