Dr. Oz Starts Petition for NIH to Increase Medical Marijuana Funding

Dr. Mehmet Oz isn’t satisfied with opioid medication options doctors have for pain relief, and he’s petitioning the National Institutes of Health to look into another option: medical marijuana.

Oz, a cardiovascular surgeon and host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” started a petition on Change.org last week called Fund More Research for Medical Marijuana as a Solution to the Opioid Crisis, which asks the NIH to quadruple its spending on medical marijuana. According to Oz, the NIH currently spends $111 million, or 0.3 percent of the NIH’s total spending and 0.1 of the cost of the opioid crisis, researching cannabis. So far, the petition has received over 24,000 signatures.

Since rising to fame on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” and his own show, Oz has come under fire for some of his medical claims. In 2014, senators questioned his promotion of weight loss supplements that don’t have scientific backing. Oz was later sued for promoting a dietary supplement he called a “magic cure.” He’s also been criticized by fellow doctors — in 2015, a group of 10 doctors wrote a letter to the dean of medicine at Columbia University calling Oz’s position as a faculty member “unacceptable.”

In the petition’s description, Oz explained that 20 years ago, he and his colleagues were “sold a bill of goods” on opioids as a new strategy to treat chronic pain. He said they were led to believe opioids were effective and “couldn’t be addictive,” but later discovered that opioids are addictive and, according to the CDC, little evidence supports they relieve chronic pain.

“I was duped. It’s hard to admit it, but I have to face the facts. To make sure it never happens again, I’m asking you to sign this petition,” Oz wrote.

Oz added that almost half of opioid deaths are due to the overdose of prescription drugs, and while heroin is responsible for much of the other half, research suggests that four out of five heroin users started with prescription drugs. Meanwhile, he said that studies show states with medical cannabis laws have a 25 percent lower mean annual opioid overdose mortality rate compared to states without medical cannabis laws, and that evidence suggests cannabis is more likely to reduce pain symptoms.

“Yet the government still says cannabis has no proven medical value,” Oz wrote.

In an appearance on Fox News on Tuesday, Oz said there is a “hypocrisy” around marijuana and criticized the fact that it’s a Schedule 1 drug, which means there are restrictions on how it can be studied.

“People think it’s a gateway drug to narcotics. It may be the exit drug to get us out of the narcotic epidemic,” he said.

One thing Oz didn’t mention in the petition is the fact that studies show the majority of people who are prescribed opioids for chronic pain do not develop an addiction — only between 8 and 12 percent become addicted, according to one review. While it’s clear that patients need better pain management options like medical marijuana, it’s also important that those who use opioids safely are not shamed for their choice or forced off medication that is improving their pain and quality of life.

Lead photo courtesy of the Dr. Mehmet Oz Facebook page

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