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New Mexico Advisory Board Recommends Using Cannabis to Curtail Opioid Abuse

A Medical Advisory Board voted in favor of adding opiate use disorder as a qualifying condition for New Mexico’s medical marijuana program. The final decision is in the hands of the state’s Health Secretary.

New Mexico may soon be expanding its medical marijuana program, the Santa Fe New Mexican reports. Earlier this month a state advisory board recommended with a 5-1 vote that the Health Department expand the program’s list of qualifying conditions to include “opiate use disorder.”

Opioid drug abuse and overdose deaths have plagued New Mexico for decades. According to the Santa Fe New Mexican, the state has been at the top or near the top among states with the highest occurrence of abuse and overdose. The opioid epidemic has hit the entire country hard; however, as of two years ago over 1.9 million Americans had a substance abuse disorder involving prescription painkillers, with nearly 19,000 of those cases ending in overdose deaths.

Board member Dr. Laura Brown, who treats patients of opiate addiction at the Santa Fe Recovery Center, told the Department of Health that, “those who are using cannabis are doing better than those who are not.”

Evidence suggests that cannabis helps addicts in their recovery efforts by reducing withdrawal symptoms, including insomnia and anxiety. With the help of marijuana, addicts can gradually reduce their use of opioids. Research even indicates that cannabidiol (CBD), a cannabinoid found in cannabis, reduces the chances of returning to opioid use after a period of abstinence.

Anita Briscoe, an Albuquerque-based advanced practice registered nurse, submitted a written statement and 21 pages of research in an effort to convince the Department of Health that cannabis is beneficial in the treatment of opiate addiction.

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“Just imagine if [addicts] had access to cannabis and were able to kick their habits, how our state would change for the better,” Briscoe said. “Crime would go down, health care costs would diminish, overdose deaths would fall, and it would help our economy to flourish. Without the familial crisis of opiate dependence, New Mexico’s children would also be safer, families would be more stable.”

Research has also shown that giving patients access to cannabis significantly reduces their opioid pain medication intake. Because marijuana has shown to be effective at managing pain, researchers have encouraged doctors to recommend cannabis to their chronic pain patients rather than prescribing opioids.

Whether opioid addiction is added to New Mexico’s medical marijuana program is now up to the state’s Health Secretary, Lynn Gallagher. If she determines that prescription drug addiction be recognized as a legitimate medical condition, thousands more New Mexicans will become eligible for the state’s program.

The single vote in opposition to adding opioid abuse as a qualifying condition came from Medical Advisory Board Chairman Dr. Mitch Simson. He felt that having chronic pain already included as a qualifying condition would already cover most of patients who become addicted to prescription opioids and voiced concern over cannabis being an addictive substance itself, although research has shown otherwise.

With the addition of opiate use disorder to its list of qualifying conditions, New Mexico could expand its medical marijuana program more than 100 percent within the next year, the Santa Fe New Mexican reports. The program has already grown by 76 percent over the past year.

The Medical Advisory Board also voted to recommend that Alzheimer’s disease be added as a qualifying condition. The board also recommended to allow physicians to certify patients for medical marijuana via meetings over video call and to raise the cap on the number of plants a grower can produce to ensure that supply keeps up adequately with demand.

You can learn more about New Mexico’s cannabis laws by visiting our education page.