"It is time for safe and regulated medical marijuana to be made available nationally," Gupta wrote in an open letter to Jeff Sessions, which he composed after trying and failing repeatedly to get in touch with the attorney general directly. "I realize this is an unconventional way to reach you, but your office declined numerous requests for an interview, and as a journalist, a doctor and a citizen, I felt it imperative to make sure you had access to our findings."
Despite Sessions' refusal to discuss the issue, Gupta is convinced that the AG can turn a new leaf on the topic.
"I changed my mind, and I am certain you can, as well. It is time for safe and regulated medical marijuana to be made available nationally."
That change of heart would save lives, Gupta added.
"These are desperate times, and while some may consider making medical marijuana widely available to be a desperate measure, the evidence has become increasingly clear of the important role cannabis can have...Researchers from the Rand Corp., supported by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, conducted 'the most detailed examination of medical marijuana and opioid deaths to date' and found something few initially expected. The analysis showed an approximately 20% decline in opioid overdose deaths between 1999 and 2010 in states with legalized medical marijuana and functioning dispensaries."
Those numbers could translate to preventing 1 million Americans from becoming statistics in the opioid epidemic over the next decade.
"Medicinal marijuana could save up to 10,000 lives every year" in America, according to Gupta's research. Based on that, he's convinced that medical marijuana is the cure they've been searching for.
"Mr. Sessions, there is no other known substance that can accomplish all this. If we had to start from scratch and design a medicine to help lead us out of the opioid epidemic, it would likely look very much like cannabis."
How Weed Can Beat Opioids
Gupta once thought that using something as simple as marijuana to combat a drug epidemic that has plagued America for decades "sounds too good to be true." But after studying the science of cannabis, Gupta has learned about "thousands of patients who have successfully traded their pills for a plant."
Gupta explained that cannabis can combat the opioid epidemic because it does three things.
"Cannabis can help treat pain, reducing the initial need for opioids. Cannabis is also effective at easing opioid withdrawal symptoms, much like it does for cancer patients, ill from chemotherapy side effects. Finally, and perhaps most important, the compounds found in cannabis can heal the diseased addict's brain, helping them break the cycle of addiction."
That last point explains why 'just say no' approaches don't work for addicts. Opioid abuse damages the brain's "glutamatergic system, which makes it difficult for neural signals to be transmitted. This is an area of the brain responsible for judgment, decision-making, learning and memory....[W]hen an individual's brain is 'fundamentally changed' and diseased in this manner, they lose the ability to regulate opioid consumption, unable to quit despite their best efforts - unable to 'just say no.' It is no surprise, then, that abstinence-only programs have pitiful results when it comes to opioid addiction."
Even treatments that try to wean people off heroin and other hard drugs by using less-addictive opioids like methadone tend to fail because they continue to disrupt the glutamtergic system, preventing the brain from healing the area that can fight against opioid abuse. In contrast, scientists have discovered that the cannabis-extract CBD can actually heal that system, giving patients a fighting chance to beat addiction. Those findings mean that Sessions and the rest of the federal government must rethink everything they thought they knew about marijuana.
"For the past 40 years, we have been told that cannabis turns the brain into a fried egg," Gupta wrote, "and now there is scientific evidence that it can do just the opposite...It can heal the brain when nothing else does."
Check out the full letter here.