Warren To CDC: MMJ Can Treat Opioid Crisis

Pills Cannabis Now Magazine

Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren wrote Centers for Disease Control Director Tom Frieden this week. Her message: work with other federal agencies to investigate whether cannabis can help turn around the nation’s disastrous opioid epidemic.

Although she’s never openly embraced legalization, cannabis advocates have an ally in Warren. Last July, Warren led a group of eight Democratic Senators calling on those agencies to coordinate research on medical marijuana. The heads of the Department of Health and Human Services, the Office of National Drug Control Policy, and the Drug Enforcement Agency replied in October.

The response, which also included in-person staff briefings, “failed to answer key substantive questions.” Thus, seven weeks ago, Warren and her seven compatriots followed up with those agencies requesting more specific responses, and this week the Massachusetts progressive asked the CDC to help the effort.

“Explore every opportunity and tool available,” to combat the opioid crisis, urged Warren’s letter. Specifically, she asked the agency to study “the use, uptake and effectiveness of medical marijuana as an alternative to opioids for pain treatment in states where it is legal” as well as “the impact of the legalization of medical and recreational marijuana on opioid overdose deaths.”

In her own state alone, noted Warren, data showed a 65 percent increase in opioid overdose deaths between 2012 and 2014. “Fill the gap in our knowledge” in how cannabis can help, she urged CDC Director Frieden.

The group of senators remains dissatisfied with the federal response on details for how marijuana will become easier to research.

For one thing, the DEA told Senators in a staff briefing that the National Institute on Drug Abuse research supply stranglehold is not a barrier. Not true, says Warren, as that explanation “only applied to one strain of marijuana and does not reflect feedback we have heard from researchers in our states.”

Pressing on NIDA, Warren and the other senators requested specific information about its stock of strains.

The letter to the HHS, DEA and ONDCP also requested the Food and Drug Administration’s marijuana rescheduling analysis and recommendation to the DEA be released, as well as more specific information on both interagency and federal-state health agency coordination efforts.

Surveillance and epidemiological studies help researchers understand patterns; the senators want better answers there too. Warren wants HHS agencies like the National Institutes of Health and Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to coordinate. As the opiate crisis spikes, Warren is pressing all agencies for answers. Now it’s the CDC’s turn to get a push.

“I strongly urge you to finalize the CDC Guidelines for Prescribing Opioids for Chronic Pain as soon as possible,” read Monday’s letter. If the CDC begins telling doctors that cannabis can be an alternative to opioid painkiller overdose deaths, it would be a big deal.

Americans comprise 75 percent of worldwide consumption of opioid painkillers despite making up only 5 percent of the world’s population. Even hardline cannabis prohibitionists like Republican presidential candidates Chris Christie and Ted Cruz can tell moving stories of personal loss over opioid addiction.

Warren has come a long way herself. In 2011, Marijuana Policy Project knocked then-candidate Warren for “flunking” the marijuana question. Asked if she supported legalizing and regulating marijuana, she simply said “no.” The opioid crisis has been a key factor in opening previously closed minds.

For Warren, an important force in national Democratic politics for the foreseeable future, prohibition forces an absurd contrast between punishment for financial crimes and those for cannabis possession. “A kid gets caught with a few ounces of pot and goes to jail, but a big bank launders drug money and no one gets arrested,” she told Netroots Nation in 2014. “The game is rigged!”

Did you shake opioids with cannabis? Tell us your story below.

Sean Quinn is an Oakland-based writer who co-pioneered FiveThirtyEight, earning national acclaim for his coverage of the presidential campaigns’ 2008 field operations. He dreams of a country where cannabis is legal, all Americans are treated equally under the law, and the St. Louis Blues are Stanley Cup Champions.
  • knowa

    First off I think we have to accept the hypocrisy of islam when it comes to opium. From my understanding is that the prophet muhammad never banned opium in the koran. We also have to remember that our railroad were built on Alcohol on east and opium from the west. I remember back in the 60’s and early 70’s you could sometimes find opiated Hashish with the royal Afghan seal. What I am getting to is this would be an excellent exit drug.

  • Erania Vensel

    Was on Norco for 10 years
    Have been off of them for 4
    months.Worst time of the year for pain is winter.
    Stopped taking them in October. Med. Marijuana
    Is the best! No withdraws
    Sailed right through it!!!

  • Ashley Forsyth

    Cichewicz, Diana et al “Enhancement of µ Opioid Antinociception by Oral Delta-9-THC” The Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics Vol 289 No 2 (1998) This research looks at the effect in rodents of combination therapy of opioids and THC. A low, ‘inactive’ dose of THC was used, meaning it had no effect on pain by itself. Physiologists testing rats have used standardized tests for decades. This research used the classic “tail-flick test” which shines a warm light on the rat’s tail while it eats in a narrow cubicle. The tail flick interval and frequency reflect pain and can be used to measure analgesic efficacy of drugs. An ‘inactive’ dose of THC was shown to enhance the analgesic effect of several opiods. The potency of hydromorphone was shifted 12.6 fold by adding the inactive dose of THC. Other opioids had their potencies shifted by 4 – 9 folds. Prior to 1942, major pharmaceutical companies had huge farms to grow marijuana, and they produced extracts of cannabis which were often sold in combination with opioids.

    Cichewicz, Diana et al “Changes in Opioid and Cannabinoid Receptor Protein following Short-Term Combination Treatment with Delta-9-THC and Morphine” Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics (2007) This landmark study out of the Medical College of Virginia examined the brains of rodents given opioids and cannabis. The dose of cannabis was small, an ‘inactive dose,’ which means the cannabis did not provide an analgesic effect. Animals were sacrificed and using special stains, opioid receptors were examined. Combination therapy with oral THC and opioids prevented opioid tolerance from developing, providing a mechanism by which low dose, even ‘inactive doses’ of cannabis can preserve the efficacy of opioid analgesia and potentially prevent habituation and tolerance.

  • The vet administration had me on over 200mg morphine daily plus hydro’s. 3 years ago I got my card. No more morphine!!!!!

  • Selena

    Yes I did!
    Three years ago after months of research and talking with my pcp and my pain clinic Dr I made the switch.
    The qualifying physician I met with took time to explain what would happen to me physically as I withdrew from the pain medications I was on for the past eight years and how cannabis would help me through the process.
    I am so thankful mmj was an option for me here in Arizona. Now that I am done with all schedule ll pain medications many of my health issues are gone and I am able to manage my pain more easily.

  • I smoke, it helps with the pain I have a degenerative bone disease. I hurt all the time.

  • AkivaBenShlomo

    If not for Cannabis I could have never gotten through the three days of demonic torture withdrawing from Hydrocodone. I thank GOD for His Creation Cannabis.

  • Nick

    I shook amphetamines and alcohol with cannabis. Saved my life. It’s not a “gateway drug,” it’s an EXIT DRUG!