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CDC Seeks Input From Medical Cannabis Patients For Opioid Guidelines Update

September 30, 2020 in General News

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recently conducted interviews soliciting input about preferences for pain management from people who live with chronic pain, from their caregivers and from health care providers. The information will be used to update the CDC Guideline for Prescribing Opioids for Chronic Pain, originally published in 2016. They heard from many medical cannabis patients about their personal experiences using the medicine. In this article I will discuss the specifics of these listening sessions and the push by the House to allow researchers to use cannabis from legal state dispensaries in addition to the current cannabis research growing site.

Updating the CDC Guideline for Prescribing Opioids for Chronic Pain

CDC Interview Information

  • The CDC invited people interested in sharing their input to apply for an interview. The deadline for this was August 21, 2020
  • Approximately 100 participants gave interviews to the CDC by phone or through an online platform
  • Interviews lasted for 45-60 minutes

CDC Interview Qualifications

In the interest of receiving a balance of opinions, the qualifications to be an interviewee included the following:

  • Patients who experience both acute and chronic pain
  • Patients with exposure to an assortment of pain management treatment options; positive, negative, both, or none at all
  • A range of patient caregivers involved in pain management; family members and/or caregivers and healthcare professionals who care for those with opioid use disorder or for those who have overdosed

The Interview Process

Participants were asked the following:

  • Their experiences with the use of different pain managements options; opioids, non-opioids, non-pharmaceuticals, and alternative therapies such as exercise and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • Their opinions on the benefits, risks and potential harm of their pain management choices
  • How accessibility, costs, benefits and risk to pain management options factor into their decision-making on which type(s) to choose
  • Their experiences about whether or not they were able to get the necessary information to make informed decisions about their pain management options

CDC Interview with Dustin McDonald, Americans for Safe Access (ASA) Policy Director

ASA Policy Director, Dustin McDonald, who uses cannabis as a treatment for Lyme disease, was granted an interview with officials at the CDC to discuss his personal and professional experiences as a cannabis patient and advocate. ASA is based in Washington, DC with chapters in many states. It is a member-based organization with its main focus on working to secure safe and legal access to cannabis, both as a treatment option and for research purposes.

McDonald was impressed by the genuine interest that CDC officials demonstrated in the desire to speak with medical cannabis patients, especially those who used it to control chronic and acute pain. He was told that the CDC had interviewed other patients who used medical cannabis for pain management. He was surprised that they seemed so open-minded about cannabis use considering that the CDC is a federal agency and cannabis remains federally illegal.

According to McDonald, he was encouraged that the CDC asked for his input on the following:
1. What do you think that the CDC could do to highlight the need for more research into medical cannabis usage for both prevention and treatment options for diseases?
2. What is the best method to convince lawmakers to move forward with legislation to expand cannabis research?

McDonald sees his role as that of motivating the CDC and other federal agencies to work with the ASA to remove the obstacles for cannabis research which have been in place for decades. He is also hoping a partnership with the CDC and other agencies would succeed in driving federal funding for grants for federal agencies and academic institutions to investigate medical cannabis as a medicine.

McDonald is hopeful that the input from medical cannabis patients will compel the CDC to take some action about recommending it as a safe alternative treatment option. The CDC received more than 1,000 comments supporting cannabis and kratom as pain relief options. McDonald expects that there will be substantial discussion about medical cannabis in the updated guide.

Federally Authorized Cannabis Research Cultivation Site
A pervasive problem with medical cannabis research in the US stems from the tight restrictions on the source of the cannabis product and on the personnel allowed to use it for research purposes. At the moment, there is only one authorized medical cannabis manufacturing site located at the University of Mississippi. Unfortunately, the quality of the product is sub-par and is closer to hemp than to the medical cannabis available at state-legal dispensaries.

House Passes Legislation To Allow The Use of Cannabis Purchased in State-Legal Markets For Research Purposes

Last July, the House approved legislation that would allow researchers to use cannabis purchased from state-legal dispensaries instead of restricting them to the cannabis grown at the University of Mississippi. The provision, attached to an infrastructure bill, allows for the interstate distribution of cannabis products to researchers, even in illegal cannabis states.

In addition, one of the requirements of the provision includes the production of a yearly report by the Department of Transportation, the Attorney General and the Department of Health and Humans Services. The report would provide recommendations on how researchers can gain better access to the different strains and samples of cannabis products that are for sale to patients in state-legal cannabis programs.

Sources:, CDC Meets with Medical Marijuana Patients to Discuss Cannabis As Alternative Therapy, Kyle Jaeger, Sept. 15, 2020, Patients Want To Talk Marijuana with CDC During Pain Management Meetings, Kyle Jaeger, Aug. 18, 2020, CDC Seeks Patients’ Input To Update Guidelines on Opioids, Forest Ray, Aug. 12, 2020, Congress Votes To Allow Study at Dispensaries, Joshua Lee, July 2-8, 2020

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