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Can Medical Marijuana Help Utah's Opioid Crisis?

A pain management expert weighs in on the use of medical marijuana for chronic pain.

A medical marijuana bill has passed the Utah House session. House bill 197 would require the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food to grow marijuana to be dispensed to patients under “the right to try.” 

One pain management doctor is already seeing differences in patients who use medical marijuana instead of opioids to treat pain. 

“No one has ever died from smoking marijuana or taking marijuana in other forms,” said Dr. Shivani Amin. She’s a pain management doctor in Maryland who uses medical marijuana to treat her patients with chronic pain. She see this as an alternative to using opioids.

According to the Center for Disease Control, there were an average of 115-opioid caused deaths a day in 2016 in the U.S.

Amin said people can easily develop a tolerance to medication, which causes them to take more pills for the same effect. The same thing can happen for marijuana but there is still a difference.

“Yes, there’s potential of becoming tolerant because you’re using that same strain but the good thing about marijuana is there’s so many different strains out there because of the chemical compounds of the plant,” Amin said.

Marijuana is often associated with chemical THC, the compound that produces that psychoactive high. Amin said that’s not always the case because it depends on the strain from the plant.

“Most likely the strains contain all parts of the chemical compounds,” Amid said. “If you use a strain that has THC in it but has higher levels of another chemical compound such as CBD, you won’t necessarily get that feeling.”

CBD or cannabidiol is a compound known for its anti-inflammatory effects and pain relief. There are limited studies on the hundreds of chemical compounds found in medical marijuana.

“The more and more states that become legal, the more research that’s out there and the more we can learn about this plant because there’s so much to learn,” Amin said.

Amin believes more research on the use of marijuana to treat pain in states like Utah is needed, she adds pain management doesn’t always lead to opioids versus marijuana.

“Not one thing is going to cure your entire condition,” Amin said. “It’s chronic for a reason and I think that people have to be mindful of that.”

Amin said people with chronic pain should incorporate a variety pain management methods such as working with a behavioral therapist, laser therapy and physical exercise. 

The Utah cannabis cultivation bill will now go to the senate for consideration.