Citing a lack of scientific proof, the state’s medical board on Wednesday voted against allowing doctors to recommend marijuana to treat opioid use disorder.
Board members said they reviewed hundreds of pages of research and heard from expert witnesses, and did not find conclusive evidence that cannabis can help opioid addicts manage their cravings.
“I think we’re all desperate to find a way to resolve the opiate crisis, and we’ve had a lot of communication with folks who support (using cannabis to treat opioid addiction), and we’re sympathetic to that position,” said board member Betty Montgomery. “But this is a science-based board. And the last thing we want to do is grasp at something to solve this crisis that may exacerbate it in a way that we’re not aware of because we don’t have the science behind it.”
The board also voted against allowing doctors to recommend marijuana to treat depression and insomnia and tabled a recommendation to allow medical marijuana to treat anxiety and autism to allow two new board members to review the recommendation.
“It’s disappointing,” Alex Thomas, executive director of the Ohio Medical Marijuana License Holders Coalition, said of the board’s decision not to expand a list of 21 conditions marijuana is approved to treat in Ohio. That list includes Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, epilepsy, glaucoma, chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder.
The board was shown research to support the use of marijuana to treat the three conditions they voted on Wednesday, and Thomas said he was saddened that they didn’t give that evidence more consideration.
Patients suffering from those conditions have benefited from using marijuana, he added.
Board President Michael Schottenstein left the door open for approving marijuana to treat those conditions if more research shows the drug is effective.
“It does beg this question, shouldn’t we just make it available and hope that it turns out to be helpful because we need all the help that we can get?” Schottenstein said.
But if board members approved marijuana to treat opioid addiction and found that the drug makes the problem worse, they wouldn’t be able to remove it from the list of approved conditions, he said.
“Our hands would be tied,” Schottenstein said.
The medical community is divided on the the use of marijuana to treat opioid addiction. Studies have come to differing conclusions on whether cannabis can curb addiction to opioid painkillers.
While a Rand Corporation study found that overdose deaths dropped in states that legalized marijuana for medical use, a Stanford University study found that marijuana users are more likely to abuse opioid painkillers.