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New York lawmakers are currently weighing legislation introduced this month in the Senate and the Assembly that would expand medical marijuana coverage to include those who are in need of opioid addiction treatment. The idea behind the bill(s) being that medical marijuana would be able to assist with many of the symptoms traditionally associated with opioid withdrawals, including nausea and anxiety. Lawmakers believe that medical marijuana would pose less risks to users than traditional, opioid-based treatments such as methadone or Vivitrol currently do.
It goes without saying that addiction recovery, and the medications that aid with symptoms associated with withdrawals, is a tricky science. No medication can entirely remove these symptoms (that we have yet discovered), and often the methods used to help with addiction recovery can lead to an entirely new set of problems in and of itself. However, while medical marijuana advocates fully support using medical marijuana in situations such as this, it doesn’t come, as advertised, without it’s own set of side effects.
Melissa Moore, deputy state director of the Drug Policy Alliance, stated “Far from being a gateway drug, marijuana is potentially an exit drug for people using opioids.” In many instances, users of other, harsher drugs, began their drug use as teens using marijuana and then graduated to other, harsher drugs from there. Marijuana is, in fact, addictive, although similar to any substance, not all users of the drug experience addiction. Marijuana has been known to have side effects, including cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome (CHS). CHS has been growing more and more prevalent in recent years with the advent of legal recreational marijuana in some states and the continued popularity of the drug, and is caused by long-term chronic use. Symptoms include vomiting, abdominal pain, and psychological stress, and the only known cure is quitting marijuana use.
One thing is clear – we need to do more medical research before we can state that using medical marijuana as an addiction recovery tool is a good idea. Marijuana is not without side effects, and we haven’t been able to look at the long-term impacts of marijuana on recovering addicts before we can say that it will truly be an effective treatment that causes more good than harm.