Donald Trump Creates Commission to Fight Opioid Abuse...Without Marijuana?

Donald Trump at a Denver campaign rally.
Donald Trump at a Denver campaign rally. Brandon Marshall
President Donald Trump has a plan to stop the opioid epidemic, and (surprise!) it doesn't involve cannabis.

The president's latest executive order lays out a blueprint for a commission that will address the nation's opioid epidemic. Drug overdoses are the leading cause of accidental death in this country: The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) reports that there were 52,404 lethal drug overdoses in 2015, and 2 million people had a prescription pain-abuse disorder.

Cannabis has been widely discussed as an alternative for opioids, but there's no indication that the commission will consider its medical benefits. In fact, marijuana-hater Chris Christie, governor of New Jersey, has been chosen to chair the commission. Others on the panel include Attorney General Jeff Sessions, another staunch critic of cannabis, as well as Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin and Defense Secretary James Mattis, the Washington Post reports.

Shulkin, a physician who also worked with the Obama administration, is the first non-veteran to lead the VA. Despite marijuana's federal prohibition, he's said he's open to discussing whether veterans can participate in state-run marijuana programs.

"I wholeheartedly agree that the VA should do all it can to foster open communication between veterans and their VA providers, including discussion about participation in state marijuana programs. At the same time, marijuana is classified as a Schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act, so it is unlawful to knowingly or intentionally distribute or dispense marijuana as a matter of federal law. VA and its providers are bound by this prohibition," he wrote in a response to Senator Kirsten Gillibrand last year.

Ten of the 28 states with medical marijuana laws list PTSD as a qualifying condition. Colorado may join them this year, as a bill that would add PTSD as a qualifying condition for MMJ is making its way through the legislature.

In states where it's legal, medicinal marijuana is already being used to replace opioids.

"Opiates are not the end-all for pain relief. They numb you out, incapacitate you, give you constipation, and lead to an addiction, and in many cases, lead to overdose and death. They have some serious abuse characteristics," says David Sutton, COO of NanoSphere Health Science. "They kind of just make your head a little fuzzy and make you care less about it, but they don't treat the root cause. I think cannabis does.... It treats the root cause and is more effective."

Cannabis works differntly than pharmaceutical drugs, he explains. NanoSphere, a Denver-based company, has created a delivery system for cannabis nutraceuticals that encapsulates the cannabinoids so that when taken orally, the medicine goes directly to the bloodstream. Instead of numbing the pain, cannabis releases neurotransmitters that can inhibit the pain.

"It changes the way you feel the pain rather than becoming completely numb," Sutton says. "It's a different sensation and methodology for revealing pain, especially through the endocannabinoid system. It works on the same receptors as opiates."
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Kate McKee Simmons interned at the National Catholic Reporter, was a reporter for the New York Post, and spent a brief stint in Israel learning international reporting before writing for Westword.