Maryland is poised to become the fourth state to allow medical marijuana to be used as a treatment for opioid use disorder.
Right now, Maryland legislators are considering a new bill that would add opioid use disorder to the list of conditions qualified to be treated with medical marijuana. The new legislation sees Maryland follow the lead of states like Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey, which have approved similar measures in recent months.
Advocates hope that the bill will boost awareness of medical marijuana's potential as a cure for the opioid epidemic raging across America.
"People are educated enough now to understand that medical cannabis can help with pain, but until it becomes brought to the public's attention more, I don't think it’s a go-to to deal with opioid abuse disorder. And it should be," Gail Rand - athe chief financial officer for the medical marijuana cultivator ForwardGro - told The Washington Post.
Currently patients in Maryland can opt for medical marijuana instead of opioids for conditions such as chronic pain. However, Rand argues that until opioid use disorder is officially put on the list, doctors aren't likely to begin moving people away from opioids if their patients begin to develop dependencies.
Fatalities related to opioid overdoses have grown at a staggering rate in Maryland, which saw the number of opioid-related deaths nearly double between 2015 and 2017, with overdose deaths climbing from 1,089 to 2,009. Meanwhile, In 2017 alone, approximately 47,600 Americans died from overdosing on opioids. So medical marijuana could save tens of thousands of lives if it helps people kick their addictions to heroin, percocet and other opioids.
But detractors like Dr. Joe Adams of the Maryland-DC Society of Addiction Medicine say allowing patients to treat opioid use disorder with medical marijuana will only increase the death toll by pushing them away from proven and established treatments.
Other physicians think cannabis and opioids could be used together in a wider treatment plan. Dr. Patricia Frye said her patients who use both opioids and cannabis take smaller doses of opioids and are less likely to display depression or anxiety.
The Maryland bill also faces tough opposition in the state legislature. Last year Maryland's medical marijuana commission studied the issue and decided against adding opioid use disorder to the list of qualified conditions for medical cannabis. The commission has yet to comment on the state's new bill.