Cannabis Shows Promise Treating Opioid Addiction
A renowned California professor is speaking out on the promise shown by medical cannabis in addressing the country’s opioid addiction crisis.
Dr. Daniele Piomelli — a UC Irvine School of Medicine professor of neurobiology and anatomy — has determined after 25 years of studying the pain-relieving properties of cannabis and its progeny that the substance could be used to treat opioid addiction — which was responsible for the deaths of 19,000 people in 2014 alone.
“The major cause of the delay we have is decades of misunderstanding, misconception, and misinformation on cannabis that only now, after 20 years of work on the endocannabinoid system, we are finally starting to dispel,” says Piomelli.
The endocannabinoid system — the subject of Piomelli’s research for over two decades — helps regulate multiple properties of the body, including pain sensation, memory, and mood, among other areas. Pain and addiction are found to ebb when the endocannabinoid system is targeted by cannabinoids (CBDs), which is an active component of cannabis.
Thus, it follows that cannabis could be an effective method of treatment in the struggle against opioid addiction. (Piomelli maintains that more research is needed in the area.)
Despite the promise shown by cannabinoids, there remain many roadblocks to the realization of the cannabis’ medical potential in this area. For Dr. Piomelli, part of the blame rests with bureaucratic and political institutions.
“Despite what the DEA says, their scheduling creates an enormous difficulty to researchers using marijuana or its derivatives,” Piomelli said in a recent interview. “Even harmless derivatives that happen to be present in the plant have been subjected to the same limitations as marijuana.”
The DEA’s recent denial of a bid by several petitioners — including several governors — reinforced the notion that the United States government would continue to stand athwart progress on cannabis reform.
“[Marijuana] does not have a currently accepted medical use in the United States,” read a statement by DEA Administrator Chuck Rosenberg. “There is a lack of accepted safety for its use under medical supervision, and it has a high potential for abuse.”
Buried beneath the surface, however, are glimmers of hope. The DEA in April opened the door to increased study of PTSD treatment with cannabis, which could lead to further breakthroughs in research related to the treatment of opioids with the substance.
One group that has paved the way for cannabis use in this field is veterans. The country’s veteran population is at an unusually high risk for opioid addiction, with so many vets using opioids to treat such medical conditions as PTSD.
As such, veterans groups in various states across the country have paved the way for medical cannabis to be utilized in the treatment of addiction to prescription painkillers — while also using the substance for the treatment of PTSD itself. For Piomelli, it is these sorts of breakthroughs that give hope for the future.
“This is one of the times I’ve felt the most hopeful in my life,” says Dr. Piomelli. “Things aren’t going to change immediately, but I think over the next five years we’re going to see some fundamental shifts.”