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Dueling doctors debate doling out dope to deal with dangerous drug dependence

A one-ounce bag of medicinal marijuana is displayed at the Berkeley Patients Group in Berkeley, California.
A one-ounce bag of medicinal marijuana is displayed at the Berkeley Patients Group in Berkeley, California.
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There’s a lot of conflicting research out there when it comes to what the benefits of medical cannabis are.

There are studies that support the idea that cannabis can be used to treat things like chronic pain, anxiety, or appetite loss, and can even help mitigate the symptoms of chemotherapy or treat diseases like ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease) and multiple sclerosis. Still, other research links cannabinoids to hallucinations, paranoia, and long-term memory loss. But could it be used to treat opioid addiction?

It’s a proposal that’s gaining interest from some advocates and lawmakers, especially in New England and the Northeast, which is seeing some of the worst of the current heroin epidemic. Currently, there is little to no research suggesting cannabis is an effective treatment for opioid addiction, so many doctors are loath to prescribe it. The evidence that does point to its usefulness in treating addiction is mostly anecdotal, and the seriousness of the heroin epidemic also makes this idea a tough sell in many of the states hit hardest by opioid addiction and overdoses.

Should lawmakers consider funding more research into marijuana’s ability to treat opioid addiction? How would they go about doing that given marijuana’s Schedule I drug status? Would you consider cannabis for yourself or a loved one to help treat opioid addiction?


Gary Witman, M.D., a doctor with Canna Care Docs, an alliance of medical marijuana clinics with locations in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts and other states. He has treated addicts with cannabis at his offices in Fall River, Stoughton and Worcester, Massachusetts

Kevin Hill, M.D., an addiction psychiatrist and an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School. Last year authored the JAMA study that found benefits in using medical marijuana to treat chronic pain, neuropathic pain and spasticity related to multiple sclerosis