Maryland Voting on Using Marijuana to Treat Heroin Addiction

By Bryan Le 04/03/17

Lawmakers are looking to unorthodox treatments for opioid addiction, but critics say there is no scientific backing for such a proposal.

A doctor writing a prescription for medical marijuana.
A new anti-addiction drug?

Maryland legislators are deciding on a law that would allow doctors to use medical marijuana to treat people suffering from opioid addiction.

"With the problems we're having with heroin, this is something that should be available in the state of Maryland," says Del. Cheryl Glenn, a Baltimore Democrat.

The proposal is part of a larger bill overhaul meant to improve Maryland’s medical marijuana program. If passed, the bill would give Maryland doctors the green light to prescribe medical marijuana to patients afflicted with “opioid use disorder.”

According to some estimates, there were around 2,000 heroin and opioid overdose deaths in Maryland in 2016. Advocates of the bill say they’re open to unorthodox solutions to the crisis.

“We need to support any and all paths to recovery,” said Lisa Lowe with the Heroin Action Coalition of Maryland, an addiction treatment advocacy group.

Critics of the bill point to the lack of scientific evidence supporting the claim that marijuana could help treat opioid dependency.

"There is evidence that cannabis may be effective in alleviating certain forms of pain, and may be useful therefore in reducing opioid use. But there is no evidence that cannabis may help reduce opioid addiction," says Dr. Daniele Piomelli, a University of California, Irvine professor and cannabis researcher. "This is not something any legislature should decide lightly on, without the backing of scientific data."

Some lawmakers aren't convinced that using one drug to fight another will work. “Replacing one habit with another may not be a good idea," says Baltimore County Republican Kathy Szeliga. “Treating opioid addiction with pot is a not a clean-and-sober approach.”

But bill advocates say that even if medical marijuana proves to be ineffective in treating opioid addiction, the decision still rests with the doctors. "We thought we should leave it up the doctors," says Del. Sandy Rosenberg, the Baltimore Democrat leading the rewriting the bill. "We don't legislate medical judgment."

While there may not be scientific studies directly supporting marijuana’s efficacy in treating opioid addictions, opioid abuse has fallen by about 23% in states where medical marijuana was legalized. A Los Angeles rehab is also using marijuana to help addicts wean off of harder drugs.

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Bryan Le grew up in the 90's, so the Internet is practically his third parent. This combined with a love for journalism led him to The Fix. When he isn't fulfilling his duties as Editorial Coordinator, he's obsessing over fancy keyboards he can't justify buying. Find Bryan on LinkedIn or Twitter