Patients Using Cannabis to get off Opioids

Many patients are turning to medical cannabis instead of an opioid prescription.  Opioids killed more Americans than breast cancer in 2016.  The opioid drug overdose epidemic has become one of America’s most pressing public health issues.  In an effort to slow this alarming trend that more and more doctors turning to medical cannabis.  
Maine had nearly double the national rate of opioid overdoses in 2016.  Dr. Sulak is a doctor of osteopathic medicine who has treated hundreds of people in Maine with cannabis to wean them off opioid painkillers.  Dr. Sulak runs two outpatient clinics in Maine, and started exploring cannabis as a part of the solution when he noticed that a number of his patients were able to sustain their opioid dosages for years – no increases in the dosage.  After asking many of his patients why they did not need typical increases in the dosages of opioids, he found these patients were using opioids in combination with cannabis.  And, the patients felt the cannabis boosted the opioid’s effectives without requiring ever increasing dosages.  
Dr Sulak pointed out that medical studies indicate opioids in combination with cannabis in animals showed a boost to the opioid’s effectiveness at level dosages.  One of Dr. Sulak’s patients at his integrative health practices concurs.  She smokes a gram of cannabis every three or four weeks supplemented with marijuana tinctures, oils and vapor.  His patient credits her life now to cannabis as she was taking 25 pills a day before seeing Dr. Sulak – now she only uses cannabis.  The patient said, “I want people to know that they have options.  Do not be afraid to tell your doctor that you do not want these chemicals in your body.”
Another of Dr. Sulak’s patients wholeheartedly agrees.  “I don’t think I would be alive today if I didn’t have it, “he said.  He started off using narcotics to manage pain from an injury to his vertebrae from falling off a house.  After 32 times in and out of rehabilitation for opioids, he was finally helped by medical cannabis.  
Dr. Mark Wallace, pain management specialist and head of the University of California, San Diego Health Center for Pain Medicine is seeing much the same with his patients.  Wallace estimates that hundreds of patients have been assisted in getting opioid usage down with cannabis. One of Dr. Wallace’s patients, Marc Schechter, estimated he took over 40,000 opioid pills before he saw Dr. Wallace.  He reported all were doctor prescribed to treat an inflammation of the spine; the pills ranged from Percocet, fentanyl and OxyContin. Schechter said the first night he went to the cannabis clinic and used a vaporizer; “Within a minute, I had immediate pain relief…the pain level was so tolerable that I was, like, in heaven.”
A growing number of doctors and researcher like Wallace and Sulak are more than ready to provide data to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.  Federal regulations are standing in the way of getting people the help they need.  The Drug Enforcement Administration still classifies cannabis as a Schedule I drug – which means it has not medical use and carries a high potential for abuse as well.
“We have enough evidence now that it should be rescheduled,” Wallace said.  Dr. Sulak agrees, “When will the medical community catch up with what their patient populations are doing?”

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