RI shoots down medical marijuana treatment for opioid addiction

A petition filed with the Department of Health last year asking that opioid addiction be included on a list of qualifying conditions for medical marijuana was shot down by state health officials, as they said there’s no proof yet that this treatment actually works.

There are two ways to get a condition added for medical marijuana. The first is by the General Assembly passing it into law and the other is a petition filed by citizens that the Department of Health will look into.

This petition was filed by William Cotton, a volunteer with B&B Cannabis Consulting, a firm that helps patients get their medical marijuana card.

“Cannabis is not addicting. It doesn’t kill anybody, opiates do,” he said. “If it saves one life it’s worth it. If it saves two lives I think its huge. What  I believe is it will save 20 lives a year.”

Joseph Wendelken with the Department of Health said the state is open to the idea but there’s just not enough evidence out there to prove it will work, as it does for chronic pain, an approved condition from the state.

“In doing our review, one thing we did find was that there was a lack of research around the effectiveness of medical marijuana treating opioid dependency,” Wendelken said. “We just need to make sure that it’s safe and effective.”

Another issue is the way the federal government classifies marijuana.

“The federal government funds a lot of these studies. But they class the drug in such a way that it makes it difficult to do some of those studies,” Wendelken said.

But Cotton doesn’t buy it, saying the same can be said for other conditions approved by the state.

“All the other qualifying conditions don’t have enough evidence because there are no studies on it,” Cotton said.

The state is standing by current research that supports using methadone and other similar medications to fight opioid addiction.

The Department of Health is denying this petition but they’ll be reviewing the issue again in a year or two when more research is available.