Could medical marijuana help curb opioid abuse?

Sen. Orrin Hatch introduced the Med Act that would push the federal government to allow medical marijuana research in an effort to end opioid addiction.

Marijuana, whether recreational or medical, has been a hot issue across the United States for years now.

Several states have legalized recreational pot, while many others haven't legalized it for medical use.

But some believe it could help curb another big issue related to drugs: the opioid crisis.

Republican Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch and a bipartisan group of senators are pushing the federal government to make it easier for researchers to conduct studies on medical marijuana.

Could that bill help in America's battle against opioid addiction?

Valley doctor Gina Berman thinks she's found a humane way to deal with our addiction to painkillers: using cannabis instead.

"There's another medication that has less side effects, that's less harmful," Berman said.

The idea is getting some traction nationally as Hatch introduced his bill Wednesday.

"I worry, however, that in our zeal to enforce the law, we too often blind ourselves to the medicinal benefits of natural substances like cannabis," Hatch said in introducing the bill.

Hatch's bill -- called the Meds Act -- would knock down administrative barriers and make marijuana more available to researchers.

There are few if any long-term studies of whether medical marijuana can reduce the use of opioids to ease chronic pain.

One recent study found medical marijuana laws may have lowered the number of hospital stays caused by opioid overdoses.

But Orrin Hatch's legislation faces hurdles, starting with America's top prosecutor. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has sent signals to states that legalized marijuana that he might crack down on the pot business.

There is much to be learned about marijuana's potential to ease opioid addiction and the Orrin Hatch bill could help answer those questions.

Hatch stressed that he opposes the use of recreational marijuana. Meanwhile, a group in his home state of Utah is collecting signatures for a vote in 2018 on legalizing medical marijuana.

© 2017 KPNX-TV


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