Cannabis for Opioid Addiction: The New Treatment Option May Be Coming To Maine
By Keith Mansur
Oregon Cannabis Connection
In January, under the state’s procedure for adding qualifying conditions to the Maine medical marijuana program, Dawson Julia filed a petition with Maine’s Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) to add Cannabis for opioid addiction. Once filed, DHHS arranged a hearing that took place April 19, 2016, with three hours of testimony presented.
Over 30 people testified at the hearing, which comprised a panel of two medical doctors and one attorney. Of the proponents to testify, many were patients who attested to the effectiveness of cannabis to help reduce their opiate doses, or even to stop some drugs altogether. Clinicians and activists presented information—including Julia himself, who provided the commission a bundled “report” that listed all the current scientific information for the panel to easily reference.
“I submitted a petition to DHHS (Dept. Health and Human Services), which is a pretty simple two page form,” Julia explained. “After that, they set up a public hearing on April 19.”
Three doctors testified in favor of the petition and a number of others, along with nurse practitioners provided written testimony to the panel. (Nurse practitioners can recommend cannabis in Maine.) Of course, a lot of patients went to the hearing and gave personal testimony. According to Julia, 100 people showed up for the hearing, and the room was only meant to hold about twenty!
“It was a bit of chaos;, it really was,” Julia said. “We overwhelmed them.”
In order to include a wide selection of addictive drugs, he made the description of the condition “Addiction to Opiates and Drugs Derived From Chemical Synthesis,” which purposely includes most addictive drugs.
Julia is a registered caregiver in Maine and operates a safe access center specializing mainly in patients seeking high-CBD medical cannabis. He also found many patients wanting to use cannabis as a tool to reduce their pain-killer and opioid addictions. His center, East Coast CBDs, is located in Unity, a Waldo County town suffering one of the highest rates of unemployment and economic depression in the state. With those conditions often comes drug abuse.
“I see this all the time at my business—people coming in on a whole list of drugs, half of them they don’t even know are addictive, and they try to get off the pills and go through withdrawal symptoms. I mean, enough is enough!” Julia explained to OCC in an interview. “And, when you see somebody using a natural plant, and getting just as good of a result, if not better, and they don’t have an addiction or the side effects, and their liver is not getting destroyed.”
“You see that happen for a long enough time, you’ve got to do something,” he told us.
Cannabis for Opioid Addiction: Shown To Work
Cannabis has shown, in dozens of studies, to provide an effective method of reducing dosage levels in patients who currently use opioid medicines for pain management.
Fortunately, one of the nation’s leading cannabis-friendly physicians is in Maine. Dr. Dustin Sulak has started an education effort to show the medical community and treatment professionals that cannabis has great potential in treatment of chemical drug addiction. If change—s in the Federal Controlled Substances Act were made so cannabis is dropped below Schedule I, the same category drug as the opiate narcotic heroin—effective large scale studies of cannabis could be performed.
In a recent survey, Dr. Sulak found that cannabis is very effective when used in conjunction with opiates, the opposite approach of many pain management doctors. Even more importantly for Maine and other New England states, it also can help with withdrawal from the opiates.
Dr. Sulak runs Integr8 Health clinics in Maine and Massachusetts, which specializes in cannabinoid medicines and integrative health practices. According to Dr. Sulak, 70% of their patients are dealing with chronic pain. In order to analyze the effectiveness of the cannabis, they distributed a survey relating to opioid medicine use to all their cannabis patients. The results were startling.
Of 1,074 responders, 70% used opioids in the past three months, and half had used opioids in conjunction with cannabis. Of the half the co-treated with cannabis (542), 39% stopped opioids completely and another 39% reduced their opioid dose.
“What I am seeing every day in my practice is people getting off opioids and using cannabis instead,” Dr. Sulak explained to OCC in an interview. “We have a lot of patients that have used opioids for long periods of time and end up using cannabis to reduce or stabilize their dose or to completely get off the opioids.”
Dr. Sulak, who is recognized as a leading clinician in the application of medical cannabis, made an in depth presentation of his findings on May 10, 2016, at the University of Southern Maine in Portland, which was also simulcast online. “Because the public awareness is so high concerning opioid addiction, I want to bring this information to the public. That’s my goal with the presentation,” Dr. Sulak explained.
The panel may act sooner, rather than later. Since Dawson Julia became involved in Maine’s capital, Augusta, he has made many good connections. He is optimistic.
“I have a very strong confidence that we will have a good outcome,” he told OCC. “I don’t think they are going to make this drag out.”
The panel has 180 days from the day Julia filed the petition in January, which makes their deadline July 10, 2016. As of printing this paper, no decision had yet been made. Visit www.occnewspaper.com for updates.