Updated on January 25, 2019.
Medical content reviewed by Dr. Joseph Rosado, MD, M.B.A, Chief Medical Officer
Dr. Sanjay Gupta, the chief medical correspondent for CNN, directly addressed Attorney General Jeff Sessions in an April 2018 editorial, urging he and his fellow politicians to consider medical cannabis’ ability to help victims of opioid addiction. In the United States’ current political climate, where the future legal status of marijuana medicine is uncertain, patients need all the support they can get. Keep reading to learn about the importance of medicinal cannabis in solving the opioid crisis, as well as the implications of Dr. Gupta’s statement.
Marijuana and the Opioid Crisis: An Introduction
MarijuanaDoctors.com advocates for the legalization of medical marijuana because it can relieve conditions that don’t always respond to pharmaceuticals. Patients can supplement or replace their medication to enhance their recovery and reduce side effects. Unfortunately, opioids have one of the most dangerous adverse results out there — addiction.
Both major components in marijuana can relieve pain efficiently without causing dependence. Medical marijuana can replace or reduce opioid treatment, lowering the risk of addiction. It can also directly address opioid dependency itself, reducing cravings and lowering overdose deaths. So, medical cannabis legalization is a hot topic among advocates for solving the opioid crisis.
Who Is Dr. Sanjay Gupta?
Dr. Sanjay Gupta is the chief medical correspondent at CNN. But, does that title on its own give his opinions weight? Let his experience speak for him.
When he doesn’t work with CNN, he runs a neurosurgery practice. He uses his knowledge as a medical professional to report on news related to public health. His coverage involves topics like natural disasters, pandemic outbreaks and the opioid epidemic. Dr. Gupta was responsible for breaking news about the Flint, Michigan, water crisis, the Guinea Africa Ebola outbreak and the issues with Healthcare.gov’s online debut.
Dr. Gupta hosts a variety of medical shows on CNN that thousands of Americans watch. The network gives him assignments involving prominent government officials, including former President Barack Obama. CNN relies on him for their top medical information, legitimizing his stances on health issues.
The Doctor’s Original Stance
Dr. Gupta didn’t always believe in the power of medicinal cannabis because the scientific literature he knew of didn’t support it. In a 2009 Time Magazine editorial, he pushed against recreational marijuana legalization in Colorado and Nevada. While Dr. Gupta conceded that some research demonstrated medicinal cannabis’ effectiveness for chronic conditions, he felt that marijuana had too many adverse effects to merit legal recreational use. He also cited studies stating cannabis damages your short-term memory and cognitive function.
But, as researchers now know, many of these assertions are false or misleading. When appropriately used, marijuana medicine has no long-term side effects. Fortunately, Dr. Gupta changed his professional opinion a few years later.
Dr. Gupta’s Message to Jeff Sessions
“I changed my mind, and I am certain you can, as well,” Gupta stated in his statement aimed at Jeff Sessions. By writing this request, he hoped to turn around the Attorney General’s negative view of marijuana medicine. He used an evidence-based approach to try to influence Sessions’ policies and inform readers about cannabis’ medical benefits.
He started out by stressing the severity of America’s opioid epidemic. Thousands of Americans die of an overdose every year, and more than 100 people experience an overdose every day. The opioid crisis has such an impact on our lives that the country’s average life expectancy has gone down.
But, medical marijuana has been proven to reduce the number of opioid-related deaths a state experiences each year — states with legalized cannabis medicine and accessible dispensaries experienced a 20% decline in overdose fatalities between 1999 and 2010. Gupta pointed out this data means medicinal cannabis could save up to 10,000 lives per year.
Gupta also mentioned marijuana’s ability to relieve pain. The literature he looked at demonstrated its effectiveness, and he had anecdotal evidence of his own where his patients found relief no other medication could provide. To counter the common argument that addicts should just stop taking drugs, he offered evidence that addiction is a disease that requires treatment.
Gupta finished his letter stating that if Jeff Sessions changes his stance on medical marijuana, thousands of lives could improve.
What Changed Dr. Gupta’s Mind?
Dr. Gupta’s letter came as a result of the information he found in an August 2013 editorial on medical marijuana he wrote for CNN. He started this editorial out with an apology for his 2009 piece. After some reflection, he realized that he ignored the voices of patient advocates and smaller research laboratories. The doctor regretted grouping patients in need of care in with people who are merely looking for a high. Upon further investigation, he realized that the research he found supporting long-term side effects caused by marijuana didn’t include sound scientific data.
Because of these revelations, he began work on his CNN documentary “Weed,” in which he talked with people from all facets of the medical marijuana experience about its benefits. This documentary aired on CNN to the network’s thousands of viewers.
More Resources on Medical Marijuana and Opioid Addiction
By legalizing marijuana medicine on state and federal levels, American patients can get access to safer pain medication, and scientists can conduct proper medical research. Dr. Gupta’s new stance on medical cannabis — as well as his ability to take action and call out specific government officials — is just one example of educated professionals approving of marijuana medicine.
Read our other resources on cannabis medicine and opioids for further details:
Contact government officials to remind them about the extensive evidence researchers have learned regarding medical marijuana’s benefits. Or, get involved with national advocacy organizations like NORML.