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Getting Off Opioids with Medical Marijuana

Watch Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s CNN Special Report “Weed 4: Pot vs. Pills” on Sunday, April 29, at 8 p.m. ET.

 

(CNN)In 2016, opioids killed more Americans than breast cancer. The drug overdose epidemic has become one of the most concerning public health issues of recent time, and in an effort to stem the tide, moreg and more patients and doctors are turning to pot over pills.

For much of the past two decades, 51-year-old Angie Slinker took a cocktail of narcotics, antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications to manage the pain stemming from a car accident in 1998. She had between 50 and 60 surgeries, but her pain persisted, and doctors kept giving her more pills.

 

“It was just a vicious cycle,” she told CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta. “You started taking something for pain, and before you knew it, you were into another surgery. Which brought on anxiety.” To treat the anxiety, doctors prescribed more pills. And when she felt depressed, they added even more medications.

All the drugs left in her a fog. She spent most of her days in bed. When Slinker woke up, she was in pain and looking for immediate relief.

 

By 2012, she was taking up to 25 pills a day. She weighed close to 350 pounds, and she didn’t want to move, because the medications sapped whatever will or desire she had. “I can’t do this anymore. It is killing me from the inside out,” she told her doctors.

And so she stopped cold turkey.

Marijuana legalization could help offset opioid epidemic, studies find

The withdrawal symptoms were severe. Slinker said she was moody and irritable from the pounding headaches and constant nausea. Without any medications, her hands began to spasm and freeze.

 

Her then 22 year-old son suggested cannabis. The relief was quick. “I realized immediately that there are medicinal properties within cannabis,” she said.

It didn’t completely eliminate her pain, but pot allowed her to live again, she says. She was able to play with her granddaughter and participate in life. “I’m never going to be pain-free, ever. But cannabis has given me a reason to live,” Slinker said.

But it is also illegal in her home state of Indiana. “I could have bought cannabis off the street. But that was not me. I wanted to do it the right way. I wanted to do it legally,” she said. So in July 2012, Slinker moved to Maine.

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