Surgeon General Skeptical of Medical Marijuana as Opioid Alternative

The Surgeon General is committed to solving the opioid crisis. But he’s not sure that medical cannabis is the solution.
Surgeon General Skeptical of Medical Marijuana as Opioid Alternative
U.S. Public Health Service/ Wikimedia Commons

Surgeon General Jerome Adams said today that he is skeptical that medical marijuana is an acceptable alternative to opioids. Adams was a guest at the Examining Opioids forum hosted by The Washington Examiner in Washington, D.C.  

During an interview, he said that researchers have found that smoking marijuana can be harmful to young people.

“We know that exposing the developing brain to marijuana can prime the brain to addiction and have potential negative consequences including promoting cancer,” Adams said.

Because of the risks involved, Adams said he could not recommend the use of marijuana as medication.

“It would be incredibly disingenuous of me to say that you shouldn’t smoke a cigarette but it is fine to go out and smoke a joint,” Adams said.

However, the Surgeon General did acknowledge that researchers should continue to study medicinal cannabis.

“I think it is important that we do look at the studies, but I also think it is important that we not jump on something that may have more potential consequences down the road.”

Surgeon General Details Grim Opioid Statistics

Adams prefaced his comments by detailing the somber toll of the nation’s current opioid crisis.

“We go around the country and we hear about the burden—2.1 million people with opioid use disorder. A person dying every 12 minutes from an opioid overdose,” Adams said.

In 2016, synthetic opioids caused more than 19,000 overdose deaths. In addition, approximately 37 percent of the heroin-related deaths in 2016 also involved synthetic opioids.

“The reality is it can seem overwhelming, it can seem depressing,” he added.

Some Good News on Opioids

Adams also talked about some successes in the opioid crisis including emergency remedies and evidence-based intervention. One person he talked about is a man named Jonathan, who lives in Rhode Island.

“Jonathan’s father died of an overdose,” Adams said. “Jonathan’s brother died of an overdose. Jonathan overdosed, and he was saved by his roommate having Naloxone. He was connected with a peer recovery coach, and then ultimately was then connected with medication-assisted treatment. Again, multiple evidence-based treatments. Now, Jonathan himself is a peer recovery coach.”

Adams also had an answer for those who believe that treatments like Naloxone are not good policy.

“There are folks out there who will suggest that Naloxone and these interventions are enabling drug use. I say they are enabling recovery,” Adams said.

But Adams also said he did not support some progressive harm reduction efforts such as supervised injection sites.

“There’s discussion going on across the country about safe injection facilities. I think it’s important for everyone to know that I took an oath to uphold the law. And currently, supervised injection facilities are illegal across the U.S. So, I can not and do not endorse safe injection facilities.”

The Surgeon General said the public awareness is the first step in ending the opioid crisis and had a stern warning for Americans.

“We want everyone to know there’s a killer in our medicine cabinets. Leaving pills around or opioids unattended is the same thing as leaving a loaded gun.”

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