The numbers on America’s addiction to opioid painkillers are staggering: Seventy-eight overdose deaths, 580 new heroin users and 650,000 prescriptions every day.  $55 billion in health and social costs.

Now, at least one researcher is attempting to turn his patient’s anecdotal experiences into scientific research answering the question: Could cannabis provide relief to the kinds of pain for which opioids are typically prescribed?

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The Atlantic reports on surgeon James Feeney, who is conducting a trial at Saint Francis Hospital and Medical Center in Hartford, CT. After hearing from patients who eschewed highly-addictive oxycodone in favor of cannabis, he has set up a state-funded study to see if marijuana can offer consistent relief to acute pain — the kind of pain that comes from a broken bone, as opposed to the chronic pain of a back strain, for example.

From The Atlantic:

That distinction—acute pain from an injury—is also an important one. A small body of evidence suggests that medical marijuana is effective for chronic pain, which persists even after an injury should have healed and for which opioids are already not a great treatment. But now Feeney wants to try medical marijuana for acute pain, where opioids have long been a go-to drug.

“The big focus from my standpoint is that this is an attempt to end the opioid epidemic,” he says. Overdoses from opioids, which includes heroin as well as prescription painkillers like oxycodone and morphine, killed more than 30,000 people in 2015.

Marijuana might have a bigger role in curbing this drug abuse than previously thought. Its potential uses are actually threefold: to treat chronic pain, to treat acute pain, and to alleviate the cravings from opioid withdrawal. And it has the advantages of being much less dangerous and addictive than opioids.

Unfortunately, Feeney may run into the same obstacle that other researchers have: The federal government. Cannabis’ Schedule I classification by the Drug Enforcement Administration makes it very hard to study. Permitting can take years, and researchers are forced to get their cannabis from a single source: The University of Mississippi, which grows a limited amount of marijuana for research purposes.

Another researcher, neuroscientist Yasmin Hurd, tells The Atlantic that a Earlier reviews she ran found that cannabidiol (CBD) can reduce the cravings of people addicted to heroin. Earlier reviews have generally supported the idea that compounds found in marijuana can have success treating chronic pain.

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