Health & Science

Rehab clinic’s bold experiment: Cannabis as an opioid-addiction aid?

With America continuing to confront an opioid-addiction crisis that claims more than 20,000 lives a year, medical experts continue looking for remedies — and more and more are looking to cannabis as one possible solution.

The New York Times has more on the emerging attempt to explore whether marijuana can be used as a non-lethal alternative to opiate painkillers — a practice that’s being explored by physicians across the country.

In Los Angeles, the High Sobriety rehab clinic is putting that thesis into practice, actually encouraging opiate-addicted patients to try using marijuana as a means for transitioning out of addiction.

Dr. Mark Wallace, chair of the division of pain medicine at UC San Diego, tells the Times that  he has prescribed marijuana to hundreds of patients over the last five years in order to help them get off opiates.

“The majority of patients continue to use (marijuana),” Wallace tells the Times, but they’re thankful to be off opiates. Most tell him “I feel like I was a slave to that drug. I feel like I have my life back,” he adds.

The assertion does not come without controversy; Wallace’s evidence is still largely anecdotal, and others in the field are skeptical.

“The concept on its face is absurd,” Dr. Mark Willenbring, a psychiatrist and former head of research at the National Institute for Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “I’m not prone to making exaggerated or unqualified statements and in this case I don’t need to make any: It doesn’t work. Like trying to cure alcoholism with Valium.”

No less a medical authority than Attorney General Jeff Sessions (OK, he’s not actually any kind of medical authority, unless you count Eagle Scout training) decried the idea of using marijuana to treat opioid addiction, saying “Gimme a break,” even though a roundup of the available science doesn’t support his skepticism.

But that available science is not nearly enough from a critical scientific perspective. Why? Well, because the federal government continues its schedule-1 classification of marijuana, making research extraordinarily difficult to get approved. Even the marijuana the government provides for research is, well, just barely a step above ditch weed.

To read the full story, go to NYTimes.com.