News Local/State

Lawmakers Explore Medical Marijuana As Opioid Alternative

A medical marijuana plant.

Illinois legalized marijuana for medical use four years ago. Flickr/Scubabrett22/CC BY 2.0

Illinois lawmakers are considering whether the state’s medical marijuana program could help fight the growing opioid epidemic.

The latest federal data show opioid-related deaths are growing faster in Illinois than almost anywhere else in the country.

State senators heard from recovering opioid addicts on how marijuana has helped them manage chronic pain from injuries. Ingalore Wood is from Auburn. She says opiates made her angry and reluctant to leave the house. Then she switched to medical marijuana.

“I’m more outgoing, I go places," Wood said. My nephew hadn’t seen me for six years and he’s like ‘Aunt Lore, you’re back,’ and I said, ‘What do you mean I’m back? I’ve always been here,’ and he said ‘No it wasn’t you, but you’ve been here.’”

Dr. Charles Bush Joseph is an orthopedic surgeon in Chicago. He says in the past he couldn’t operate on people who became too tolerant of opioid painkillers — like OxyContin.

“And I just remember two patients who came back to me, and said ‘Listen, Doc, I’m off the stuff.’ He goes, ‘I want you to take another shot at my shoulder.’ And I said, ‘How’d you get off?’ and he said, ‘Well listen, I’m smoking a lot of weed,’” Joseph said.

There hasn’t been a lot of research on the subject, but several medical marijuana users told senators it’s helped them with chronic pain after opioid-based prescription drugs unraveled their lives.

Illinois legalized marijuana for medical use four years ago. Of the 25 states with such programs, Illinois has the most restrictions for eligibility.