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Connecticut Doctors Push Back Against Medical Cannabis For Opioid Use Disorders

Ryan Caron King
Connecticut Public Radio
A bill in the state legislature proposes to add opioid use disorder as a qualifying condition for medical marijuana treatment. Several doctors and other medical providers testified against the idea at a public hearing Fri., March 22.

Between public testimonies on whether or not Connecticut should legalize recreational marijuana, legislators also heard from patients and health care providers Friday on proposed changes to the existing medical marijuana program.

Among them is a plan to add opioid use disorder as a condition that would qualify for treatment with medical cannabis, but many doctors testified against the idea, citing a lack of medical study.

“Cannabis is no quick fix for opioids,” said Dr. Yifrah Kaminer, child and adolescent psychologist at UConn Health. “There is no reason to use cannabis to fix the opioid epidemic. This is a desperate and confused effort of people because we don’t have good research to address the opioid epidemic.”

The use of medical marijuana for opioid use disorder is controversial—major medical organizations have come out against the idea. Others say it’s worth pursuing as a treatment solution within the opioid epidemic, which continues to see high death rates.

There are currently more than 33,600 patients in the state’s medical marijuana program.

Connecticut wouldn’t be the first to adopt the condition into its medical marijuana program—New York, Pennsylvania and New Jersey were among the first to do so, with varying stipulations.

Despite that, experts like Dr. Deepak Cyril D’Souza said Connecticut should hold off on doing the same. D’Souza, who teaches psychiatry at Yale University School of Medicine and is a psychiatrist at the VA Connecticut Healthcare System, testified in opposition of the proposal Friday.

“In the medical field, for us the gold standard of whether a drug does or does not work is a double-blind, placebo control randomized study,” he said. “That’s the basic design of these studies. I am unaware of any of that nature, of that quality, that have shown that cannabis is a treatment for opioid use disorder.”

The lack of research goes back to federal regulations. Marijuana remains a Schedule I drug, in the same class as heroin, LSD and ecstasy. These drugs have been classified as having “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse,” according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration

Because of this, there are few ways for scientists and researchers to study the possible medical applications of marijuana.

Although medical marijuana lacks evidence-based research, Connecticut residents submitted anecdotal stories about how it could help people suffering from opioid use disorder.

Conley Monk, co-founder and director of the National Veterans Council for Legal Redress in New Haven, told legislators in written testimony about returning home to Connecticut with post-traumatic stress disorder after fighting in the Vietnam War. He also developed an opioid addiction after self-medicating for his mental health.

Monk said he eventually got treatment for his addiction and used marijuana to manage his PTSD. He said medical marijuana could also work for other veterans, too, who suffer from a substance use disorder or a mental illness.

“It reduces anxiety, pain, and dependency on more harmful substances, and allows us to live better lives,” he said in a statement.

Nicole Leonard joined Connecticut Public Radio to cover health care after several years of reporting for newspapers. In her native state of New Jersey, she covered medical and behavioral health care, as well as arts and culture, for The Press of Atlantic City. Her work on stories about domestic violence and childhood food insecurity won awards from the New Jersey Press Association.
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