In recent news, a man in Minnesota, Greg Ulrich, went on a rampage at a pain clinic. Carrying guns and explosive devices, he critically injured three people and killed one. His motive was that he allegedly wanted prescription narcotics that the clinic refused to prescribe for him, and he had been frustrated for years about the level of care he received from this clinic.
Reportedly Ulrich had expressed his frustrations on numerous occasions, even calling the police to ask how to sue a hospital for “performing unnecessary surgery which left him a cripple.”
It’s Time to Take Cannabis Seriously
When do we acknowledge the opiate epidemic again?
We’ve been distracted by the global pandemic, but this story shines a light on why we must not forget about the addiction problem that plagues our society.
This is, unfortunately, not shocking to me. I watched my husband go through the same thing, ask some of the very same questions this man did, and build up the same level of frustration while under the care of a Minnesota pain clinic. But rather than take his frustrations out on the clinic, the doctors, and the nurses, I became the scapegoat, and his legal addiction nearly destroyed our marriage.
Living in Minnesota, I watched helplessly as the drugs they fed my husband changed him and nearly destroyed our life. With degenerative disc disease, spinal stenosis, and a cervical fusion, the doctors in the Midwest told my husband he would likely always need opiates, and we listened. They kept him well-supplied with Vicodin, Percocet, and even Fentanyl, as well as gabapentin, Flexeril, and a whole slew of other medications.
Cannabis for Pain and Addiction
On March 18th this year, my husband will celebrate five years opiate-free. After ten years living from prescription to prescription, we moved to Colorado, and he walked away from opiates in 2016. Despite the odds, he did what everyone told him he couldn’t — he ended his dependence on opioid medication without methadone, without suboxone, and without a single day of withdrawal.
The truth is, my husband used legal cannabis for three months before he even applied for his medical card.
Read that sentence again.
In the beginning, we bought everything he needed on the recreational side of the Colorado weed market. Anyone over the age of 21 visiting Denver for the weekend could buy the very same products my husband used to kick-start the end of his 10-year dependence on doctor-prescribed opiates.
While my husband’s experience is extraordinary, it’s not uncommon. More and more research supports the idea of cannabis as an exit drug for opioid users.
Minnesota’s Failed Medical Cannabis Program
You might be saying, “But I thought Minnesota had a medical cannabis program?” And you’d be correct; the state legalized medical cannabis in 2014 and then promptly implemented one of the most restrictive programs in the nation. With just two legal providers and 13 dispensaries across the massive state, patients have incredibly restricted access.
According to recent research, this is counter-productive. Cannabis only works when people have easy, affordable access to it.
New research published in the British Journal of Medicine by a researcher from Yale University, Balázs Kovács, Associate Professor, shows a correlation with increased access to legal cannabis, opioid deaths dropped. In fact, according to the study,
• After studying opioid-related deaths from 2014 to 2018 in 23 US states that allowed legal cannabis dispensaries, researchers found an increase from one to two dispensaries in a county was associated with an estimated 17% reduction in all opioid-related mortality rates.
• This association held for both medical and recreational dispensaries and appeared particularly strong for deaths associated with synthetic opioids other than methadone, with an estimated 21% reduction in mortality rates associated with an increase from one to two dispensaries.
• An increase from two to three dispensaries was associated with a further 8.5% reduction in all opioid-related mortality rates.
From this research, increased access clearly reveals the positive impact of medical cannabis for many people looking for alternatives to opioids.
Minnesota Cannabis is Limited
In Minnesota, not only are dispensaries few and far between, but they are limited to offering vape cartridges, capsules, tinctures, and topicals. Let me tell you from experience… NONE of these products helped my husband’s pain. CBD capsules worked wonders to help him ‘unlearn’ the habit of taking a pill at certain times of the day, but vape cartridges, tinctures, and most topicals had very little impact on my husband’s pain.
Minnesota Cannabis is Overpriced
In capitalism, supply and demand set the price of all commodities. So, where you have limited access and limited products, you automatically have higher prices.
In the image below, I took screenshots from a website belonging to a dispensary in Minnesota (on the left), a Colorado Springs medical marijuana dispensary (in the center), and the Denver recreational market (on the right).
The Minnesota price is over five times higher than the products available in the Colorado Springs area and six times higher than what’s available in Denver’s rec market.
Even just the cost of getting a medical card can be difficult for some, as the state requires $200 to register for medical marijuana. Now, factor in the fact that medical marijuana is not covered by insurance, Medicare, or Medicaid. So, not only do they charge them to be a patient and refuse to help with the costs of their medicine — they up-charge them in the name of capitalism.
Not all Marijuana is Created Equal
Naysayers will read the reports about Ulrich, who was previously arrested for possession of marijuana, and say, “Well, it obviously wasn’t working for him.” No, the occasional recreational use of cannabis is not going to help anyone. In fact, it can spell disaster for anyone dependent on opioids in Minnesota.
You see, in Minnesota, if you’re seeing a pain specialist and receiving opioid-based medications, you are required to have a random urinalysis. The last appointment my husband attended before moving to Colorado, he had actually been using cannabis for a couple of weeks. So, when his UA came back positive for THC, the nurse warned him, “If you test positive for THC again, we won’t fill your prescriptions.”
Had my husband not known that he was moving to Colorado, he probably would’ve lost it, too.
Understanding Cannabis Takes Time — Start Now
Using cannabis with intent and responsibility for medical purposes takes understanding a different approach to using the herb.
For my husband, the secret formula involved high-doses of CBD in the beginning, paired with THC-based edibles. We now understand the science behind why edibles work for him, but smoking, vaping, and tinctures don’t. We also learned that product formulations vary from product to product, and there was a lot of trial and error at first. We kept a journal and tracked what worked and what didn’t.
What I’m trying to say is that learning how to use cannabis took a specific approach, and there were several products he tried that didn’t help him at all. Each individual will find their own path with cannabis. There’s no easy way to recommend a particular cannabis formula because of the variances in body chemistry and even our DNA.
As a former cannabis advisor in Denver, now an author, writer, and journalist in the cannabis and hemp space, I’ll be the first to say — we need more research. We need the studies that will prove what many of us have learned through trial and error — cannabis works.
Cannabis CAN change lives; my husband and I are living proof — but we had to leave Minnesota to do it.
It’s time — people cannot wait any longer for solutions. Legislation must be written to lift the veil entirely. You can’t restrict access, restrict products, and restrict the consumers and expect to still reap the benefits. Minnesota — it’s time to release the restrictions on medical cannabis and give people real options for pain and addiction treatment. It’s time to take cannabis seriously.
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