Cannabis for Harm Reduction: A Risk Worth Taking

Advocates for therapeutic cannabis have submitted a request to add “addiction to opiates and other synthetic drugs” to the list of qualifying conditions for the use of medical cannabis in our state. Today from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., a DHHS petition review board will hold a public hearing to receive in-person testimony about the petition. They will accept written testimony through May 3 (details here).

The panel will receive copies of the many scientific studies confirming cross-talk between cannabinoid and opioid receptors, which has major implications for treatment of opiate addiction.

(Each of the 14 hyperlinks above links to a relevant study, the result of a quick romp through my files and a Google scholarly articles search. The studies in this sampling date back to the mid-1990s. Yes, science has known about the potential efficacy of cannabis for harm reduction for over 20 years.)

The panel will also hear an abundance of anecdotal data—that is, actual stories from real Mainers who have successfully used cannabis to reduce their dependence on pharmaceutical or illicit heroin. Unfortunately, their lived experiences are likely to be least valued by the panel.

Contemporary science defines “evidence” as being objective, unbiased, valid, accurate, peer-reviewed, and the subject of professional consensus.

In today’s medical paradigm, anecdotal data simply does not qualify as “evidence.” As researchers say, “the plural of anecdote is anecdotes, not evidence.” This aphorism highlights the tendency of the general public to conflate individual data points (even a lot of them) with what is considered scientifically valid.

But in the case of this crisis and this petition, one hopes that the panel will listen with open minds and hearts to both the anecdotal AND the scientific evidence. The science is compelling, but admittedly incomplete, thanks to [insert rant about folly of including cannabis in Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act].

On the other hand, the anecdotal data that whole-plant cannabis can treat opiate addiction is promising, and overwhelming in its sheer abundance. And we shouldn’t wait to add another, remarkably safe, tool into our admittedly insufficient kit to fight opiate addiction and overdose.

Remember that both anecdote and science definitively state that whole-plant cannabis is safe, with no LD50 and a lower dependency rate than either alcohol or tobacco.

Now, I don’t know for sure whether allowing addicted people to work with their doctors to reduce the need for pharmaceutical or street heroin via therapeutic doses of cannabis will make a statistically significant dent in Maine’s opioid overdose rate.

But I do know that in nearly 15 years of this work I have encountered thousands of people who have reduced their use of pharmaceuticals including opioids, and many who have stepped down, down, down and then off of methadone maintenance programs.

I do know that people with addictions have to be ready to accept help, and that cannabis can make it easier for many people to participate in their recovery from a place of emotional security.

And I do know that it is cruel to deny a drowning person a lifeline, even if it isn’t in the form of a helicopter rescue. When someone’s being swept away by a rushing current, any tree limb, broom handle, or piece of rope can be an effective rescue aid. A drowning person won’t say, “No thanks, not sure about the efficacy of tree limbs to prevent drowning. I’ll wait for the rescue copter and the airlift basket downstream.”

Source: BDN Cannabis