Sessions Urged To Reconsider Cannabis Stance In Open Letter

By Kelly Burch 04/26/18

The open letter by CNN's Sanjay Gupta gives examples of pain patients' lives that have been positively affected by marijuana.

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Attorney General Jeff Sessions
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CNN’s Chief Medical Correspondent Sanjay Gupta has published an open letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, urging him to reconsider his prohibitive stance on marijuana as a way to help save lives and alleviate the death toll of the opioid epidemic. 

“These are desperate times, and while some may consider making medical marijuana widely available to be a desperate measure, the evidence has become increasingly clear of the important role cannabis can have,” Gupta wrote in the letter. “If we had to start from scratch and design a medicine to help lead us out of the opioid epidemic, it would likely look very much like cannabis.”

Gupta pointed to federally-backed research done by the Rand Corporation, which found that states that had a legal medical marijuana program saw a 20% decline in opioid-related overdose deaths between 1999 and 2010. 

“Though it is too early to draw a cause-effect relationship, these data suggest that medicinal marijuana could save up to 10,000 lives every year,” he wrote. 

Gupta highlighted the story of Marc Schechter, an attorney whose inflamed spinal cord caused him intense pain. Schechter was prescribed opioids by many doctors, and despite taking 40,000 opioids over 10 years, his pain, on average, remained an 8 out of 10.

Finally, he tried cannabis under the direction of Dr. Mark Wallace, head of University of California, San Diego Health's Center for Pain Medicine. His pain was a 2 out of 10. 

“One dose of cannabis had provided relief that 40,000 pills over 10 years could not,” Gupta wrote. 

Gupta also shared the work of Yasmin Hurd, director of the Addiction Institute at Mount Sinai in New York City, who has studied the brains of people who have overdosed on opioids. Hurd told Gupta that opioids—even those used in medication-assisted treatment—"fundamentally changed” the pain.

On the other hand CBD, a cannabis compound, can "restructure and normalize" the brain at the "cellular level, at the molecular level.”

“For the past 40 years, we have been told that cannabis turns the brain into a fried egg, and now there is scientific evidence that it can do just the opposite,” Gupta wrote. “It can heal the brain when nothing else does.”

Gupta, who said that he had contacted Sessions’ office many times for an interview, urged the Attorney General to contact these researchers and others who are knowledgeable about the potential health benefits of a well-regulated, legal medical marijuana system. 

“If you do the same, Mr. Attorney General, thousands of lives could be improved and saved,” he wrote. “There is no time to lose.”

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

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