A new tool is being used to help those addicted to opioids successfully complete the detoxification process – medical marijuana.

“Medical cannabis can help with a lot of the symptoms related to opioid withdrawal, so those include insomnia, pain, anxiety, those things can all happen when someone is withdrawing from opioids,” said state Assistant Health Commissioner Jeff Brown, who oversees the state’s medical cannabis program.

He noted over the past two years, the state’s medicinal cannabis program has added about 40,000 patients because several new conditions have been added that qualify for medical marijuana treatment, including opioid use disorder.

“Opioid use disorder is essentially opioid addiction," Brown said. "It’s somebody who is physically, psychologically addicted to opioids in any form whether it’s prescription painkillers or heroin.”

Brown said some physicians have indicated that in addition to using medication-assisted treatment for opioid addiction detox, their patients would benefit from an additional therapy — and medicinal cannabis makes sense.

“When people are going through withdrawal, the lack of opioids running through their system causes the body to be in pain basically. Coming off of opioids can also cause anxiety. There’s literature that shows cannabis can be helpful in both those arenas," Brown said. "And coming off of opioids can also cause insomnia, which can also be treated with cannabis.”

Brown pointed out only those patients using medication-assisted treatment are able to use medicinal cannabis as part of their treatment protocol.

“It’s really physicians who are really the gatekeepers to the program. Once a physician diagnoses somebody and recommends medical cannabis as a treatment, that’s when we step in and help them get access to dispensaries.”

Medical cannabis can now legally be used to treat a variety of chronic pain.

“That allows individuals under supervision of their physician to either take less opioids or in some cases get rid of opioids altogether," he said.

Angelo Valente, the executive director of the Partnership for a Drug Free New Jersey, says more research is needed on how cannabis works "before we make any conclusions."

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