Maine is currently on the fast track in becoming the first state to make addiction to opioid prescriptions and illegal narcotics like heroin to its list of conditions that qualify for medical marijuana.
Nearly 30 medical marijuana caregivers and patients told state regulators at a public hearing last month that marijuana eases the symptoms of opioid withdrawal and offers a healthier alternative to the prescription painkillers that can lead to addiction.
During the public hearing in Maine, more than one person who had been positively affected by the use of marijuana gave testimonies of their situations. Joseph Legendre, 50, of Mount Vernon, choked back tears as he spoke about the pain he endured after hurting his back 26 years ago at construction site and how marijuana finally eased that pain. Another testimony came from 23-year-old Britney Lashier of Saco, said smoking marijuana helped her break a heroin addiction she picked up in Morocco while studying in college. “Marijuana saved my life for sure,” she said.
Supporters say it has been prescribed for opiate addiction in other states that have few restrictions on medical marijuana, including California and Massachusetts. But Maine would be the first to specifically add opiate addiction as a qualifying condition, according to the Maine Medical Association.
The Maine Department of Health and Human Services held the hearing in response to the petition. The department now has 180 days to respond.
Authorities are also desperate to curb a sharp rise in overdoses, Maine saw a 31 percent increase in opiate overdoses last year.
Those who support marijuana for treating addiction cite results from the two separate studies to strengthen their argument. A study published in Journal of Pain this year found that after taking medical cannabis, chronic pain sufferers significantly reduced their opioid use. Another study published last year in the Journal of the American Medical Association claimed cannabis could effectively treat chronic pain and other ailments.
Most states with medical marijuana allow it for a list of qualifying conditions. Getting on that list is crucial and has resulted in a tug of war in many states, including several in which veterans have been unsuccessful in getting post-traumatic stress disorder approved for marijuana treatment.
“It’s hard to argue against anecdotal evidence when you are in the middle of a crisis,” said Patricia Hymanson, a York, Maine, neurologist who has taken a leave of absence to serve in the state House. “But if you do too many things too fast, you are sometimes left with problems on the other end.”
Leah Baurer, a representative for Maine’s medical establishment spoke in opposition, saying there is no scientific evidence backing up claims that marijuana effectively treats addiction. She said the petition would encourage addicts to use another toxic and habit-forming substance.
“In fact, using marijuana may be like pouring gasoline on the fire.”