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Could Medical Marijuana Reduce Dependence on Opiates in Utah?

Utah lawmakers heard from experts about medical marijuana at the state Capitol Wednesday. One doctor testified that marijuana products could not only provide medical benefits, but might also help reduce the number of Utahns addicted to opiates.

Dr. Lynn Webster has been a clinician in Salt Lake City for over 30 years. He’s also past president of the American Academy of Pain Medicine. Dr. Webster says Utah has an epidemic opiate abuse problem, and those in the chronic pain management field are increasingly recognizing cannabinoids as potential replacements for opioids.

“Prescription opioid deaths are affecting nearly every community in Utah,” Webster says. “We need to do something to replace the use of the opioids, and I hear a lot from my colleagues in other states that they’re able to reduce the amounts of opioids tremendously when they’re allowed to use marijuana.”

Webster acknowledges that more research is needed about the risks and benefits of medical marijuana products, but he points out that in Utah in 2012, there were 308 deaths from prescription drugs and 0 from cannabis nationwide. Representative Edward Redd of Logan is also a physician. He says, if Utah can find a way to take a measured and controlled approach, he supports it.

“But if you just say here’s 300 different strains of marijuana, go out and smoke it for your pain relief, I have a problem with that, because I don’t know what’s going to happen,” Redd says. “By making that recommendation as a physician, I can end up hurting people more than helping them.”

Republican Senator Mark Madsen from Saratoga Springs is working on new legislation which he says will restrict medical marijuana treatments to a limited number of conditions including cancer, Multiple Sclerosis, Crone’s disease and chronic pain. It will also limit those who can prescribe it to specialized medical providers. 

Andrea Smardon is new at KUER, but she has worked in public broadcasting for more than a decade. Most recently, she worked as a reporter and news announcer for WGBH radio. While in Boston, she produced stories for Morning Edition, Marketplace Money, and The World. Her print work was published in The Boston Globe and Prior to that, she worked at Seattleââ
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