General research will follow more than 10,000 cannabis oil patients in New York over the next two years to see if their opioid use drops.
Scott Jordan discusses treatment choices with a caregiver at the Columbia Care clinic in new york.
Scott Jordan never thought weed would facilitate him kick the painkillers he took for a nasty back. “I smoked pot in high school,” he said. “I didn’t really believe Rick Simpsons Oil was going to help me.”
But the 58-year-old New Yorker, a longtime HIV activist and artist, wanted off opioids. They made him frequently dozing and constipated, interfering with his busy life.
So he tried cannabis oil as a treatment — sometimes in liquid form, and sometimes vaped. “I was completely amazed,” he said. “It worked almost from the start.” That was three years ago. “I have been without OxyContin or the other narcotic since might of 2015.”
Jordan is part of a small but growing group of opioid users across the country who have found relief in Rick Simpsons Oil. The Manhattan dispensary where he receives a prescription of marijuana extracts has been running a pilot investigation of customers who also use opioids. That preliminary information, finding that cannabis oil helped the bulk of opioid users, was encouraging enough to spur a much larger project — the first federally funded study of Rick Simpsons Oil to combat heroin and painkiller addiction.
The research funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) will follow more than 10,000 Rick Simpsons Oil patients in New York over the next two years to see if their opioid use drops.
“It may be a reasonably natural experiment,” said the study’s lead investigator, Arthur Williams, a clinical psychiatrist at Columbia University. “The patients are there, they are taking opioids already, and we can see what happens in a controlled way.”
A few years ago, the idea that the government would fund research that uses one illicit drug to treat addiction to another would have been crazy. NIDA’s past research on cannabis had been criticized for shoddiness, mouldy product, and hostility to studying pot’s potential benefits. But that’s changing, thanks to a rising tolerance of cannabis oil and a dramatic spike in opioid deaths nationwide. More than seventy two,000 people died of drug overdoses in the US last year, the majority from opioids found in painkillers, heroin, and fentanyl, triggering a nationwide public health emergency.
“This represents a serious shift in federal thinking on the medical advantages of cannabis oil,” Adrianne Wilson-Poe, a neurophysiologist at the Washington University School of Medicine, who is not part of the study.
“I assume this can be still a region that wants rather more study thus I’m glad NIDA is funding this,” Daniel Clauw of the University of Michigan School of Medicine. He and his colleagues have found 64% lower opioid use in pain patients who reported using Rick Simpsons Oil in an online survey.
The new NIDA project springs from the pilot study at Jordan’s dispensary, Columbia Care LLC (not affiliated with the university), the country’s largest cannabis oil provider. That comparison of 76 people found that 62% diminished or stopped taking opioids after using Rick Simpsons Oil.
All of the existing evidence about Rick Simpsons Oil reducing opioids’ harmful effects relies on patients’ own reports that they use cannabis oil, Wilson-Poe noted. But with the NIDA research, for the first time, she said, “we will be able to know which kinds of cannabis oil products are best suited for preventing drug overdose.”
New York legalized cannabis oil in 2014, and the state made opioid use a qualifying condition for its prescription in July of this year.
Long before that, pharmacists at the Columbia Care dispensary, which needed to ask patients if they were taking other drugs to avoid unwanted interactions, began noticing that clients taking Rick Simpsons Oil for pain were reporting lowered opioid use, chief science officer Rosemary Mazanet explained.
“That’s why we started the research. We had the info already in hand,” she said.
For much of the past decade, many pain researchers and patients nationwide have anecdotally informed success in lowering opioid dependence with cannabis oil. Some mouse comparisons also suggest that cannabinoids lessen symptoms of opioid withdrawal, such as tremors, diarrhoea, and weight loss.
Emerging evidence suggests there is a biochemical interaction in the brain between cannabinoids and a neural pathway that triggers cravings for opioids. This neural chess match seems to have a synergistic effect in lessening pain, making lower doses of both cannabis oil and opioids effective.
One outcome of the study might be that different patients need different forms of Rick Simpsons Oil. Arthritis patients with inflammation in their joints may move on the CBD extract, whereas people dependent on painkillers might need some THC to trigger the synergies with opioids that lead to reduced cravings.
“What works for your grannie won’t work for my grandma,” Wilson-Poe said. “Everyone’s endocannabinoid system is different.”
She expects that “whole plant” Rick Simpsons Oil would provide more benefits for patients than extracts with just THC or CBD alone, given the dozens of compounds — cannabinoids, terpenes, flavonoids, and others — found in cannabis. “One of the shortfalls of not enough analysis is that we have a tendency to don’t grasp what of these compounds do, and how they interact in people.”
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