Colorado To Allow Doctors To Recommend Pot Instead of Opioids

By Kelly Burch 06/04/19

Proponents of the new law say that it will help further reduce the number of opioid prescriptions in the state. 

Colorado doctor recommending pot

Doctors in Colorado will soon be able to recommend medical marijuana to patients for any condition that doctors might traditionally have prescribed an opioid painkiller for, opening the way for patients with conditions ranging from chronic pain to dental procedures to be able to access medical pot. 

The bill was passed with bipartisan support and signed into law by Colorado Gov. Jared Polis. It will take effect August 2. 

Proponents of the new law say that it will help further reduce the number of opioid prescriptions in the state. 

“Adding a condition for which a physician could recommend medical marijuana instead of an opioid is a safer pain management tool that will be useful for both our doctors and patients,” said Ashley Weber, executive director of Colorado NORML.

Currently, doctors can only recommend medical cannabis for certain conditions, including cancer and glaucoma, although the state also allows recreational cannabis use. Under the new law, any patients 18 or older who would be eligible for an opioid prescription can receive medical cannabis instead. 

Opponents of the measure, including Colorado physician Stephanie Stewart, said that marijuana is less understood and less tightly controlled than opioids. 

“Our real concern is that a patient would go to a physician with a condition that has a medical treatment with evidence behind it, and then instead of that treatment, they would be recommended marijuana instead,” she said. “This will substitute marijuana for an FDA-approved medication—something that’s unregulated for something that’s highly regulated.”

In February, Illinois launched a similar program designed to move patients from opioids to medical cannabis. Although Illinois also has a medical marijuana program, it is very restrictive.

Illinois' initiative—the Opioid Alternative Pilot Program—allows people who would otherwise be given an opioid painkiller to access medical cannabis without going through the state’s medical marijuana program. 

“We’re optimistic the program will benefit many Illinois residents and offer them an alternative for managing their pain,” Conny Meuller-Moody, the program’s director, told Rolling Stone at the time. 

Illinois doctor David Yablonsky said that the program would give doctors more leeway to help patients avoid potentially-dangerous opioids. 

“At least we’ll have an opportunity now as physicians to work with patients to try this instead of these dangerous and potent narcotics, you know opioids,” he said. “I hope it saves lives and that people come in and have a healthy alternative.”

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.