assachusetts, like many other states, is experiencing an increasing amount of deaths due to opiate addiction. Instead of relying on traditional methadone treatments, there are hundreds of opiate addicts who are turning to medical cannabis to curb the withdrawal symptoms associated with heroin or other opiates, such as morphine.

“We have a statewide epidemic of opioid deaths,” says Dr. Gary Witman of Canna Care Docs. “As soon as we can get people off opioids and onto a non-addicting substance—and medical marijuana is non-addicting—I think it would dramatically impact the amount of opioid deaths.” Witman has treated about 80 patients so who were addicted to either opioids, anti-anxiety medication or muscle relaxers with cannabis through a one-month tapering program. He claims that after treatment, more than three-quarters of his patients stopped using the harder drugs altogether.

So why would cannabis be a better choice than a pharmaceutical like methadone? The answer lies in how safe cannabis is to consume. When a patient is experiencing withdrawal symptoms, it is common for health officials to substitute other drugs to ease the withdrawal process. Of all the possible substances that can be used as a substitution, cannabis is the least toxic.

In reference to treatment for addiction, Dr. Harold Altvater, a physician from Massachusetts, states, “You are basically taking something that can be very harmful for an individual and substituting it with another chemical that has a wider safety margin. So, if the goal is to decrease the body count...the goal would be to get them on to a chemical that is safer.” Dr. Altvater has successfully used cannabis as a substitute for other commonly used addiction treatment medications.

Medical cannabis has been tremendously beneficial to people suffering from a wide variety of ailments. Many people are familiar with medical cannabis being used as a treatment for epilepsy, chronic pain and cancer, but there are hundreds of other beneficial uses for medical cannabis. The key to the medicinal properties of cannabis lies in the chemical compounds known as cannabinoids found in the plant.

Currently, there are more than 100 different cannabinoids that are unique to the cannabis plant and there are still more to be discovered. The two most widely known and most often used cannabinoids for patients are CBD and THC. Cannabis is a non-toxic alternative to many potentially dangerous pharmaceutical treatments and it is no surprise that an increasing amount of patients are turning to cannabis for medical treatment. Addiction, including addiction to hard drugs and alcohol, is among the many conditions that can be treated with medical cannabis.

The use of medical cannabis as a treatment for addiction is still controversial. This is partly due to the conflicting opinions among medical professionals regarding the addictive properties of cannabis itself. Although there are some contradictory studies regarding the addictive nature of cannabis, there is one thing the studies do agree on: cannabis is nowhere near as harmful as alcohol or opiates. There are studies that show cannabis is a potentially effective treatment for patients recovering from addictive substances such as alcohol or heroin. One study in particular performed in 2009 by the Laboratory of Physiopathology of Diseases of the Central Nervous System found that in animals, injections of THC derived from the cannabis plant helped eliminate dependency on opiates such as morphine and heroin.

One of the more obvious reasons cannabis should be considered as a treatment for addictive disorders is that it is already used to treat many of the common side effects of substance withdrawal. Withdrawal from alcohol or hard drugs generally produces symptoms such as anxiety, depression, pain, nausea and sleeplessness. In the states where medical cannabis is legal, there is significant evidence to show that medical cannabis effectively treats every one of these common withdrawal symptoms. This is why medical cannabis is such a logical choice for addiction treatment.

Perhaps the biggest argument against cannabis being used as a treatment for addiction is that one drug is just being substituted for another. This argument is quite flimsy because most addiction treatment programs include substituting dangerous (in some cases, highly addictive) pharmaceutical drugs for the drug the patient is trying to quit. As can be imagined, this causes a whole new set of problems for the patient.

I believe that as more is learned about the healing powers cannabis plant has to offer, we will surely see its place as a treatment for addiction solidified. The non-toxicity of cannabis provides a strong incentive to make it a part of addiction treatment programs across the globe. It is so important for an individual to do his or her own research regarding cannabis and its healing properties. With more independent research, we, as a society, will be able to get past the stigma and false information spread by a select few. Only then will we truly be able to discover all of the healing properties the miraculous cannabis plant has to offer.