ASA Files Freedom of Information Act Requests

WASHINGTON, DC — On November 9, Americans for Safe Access, filed two requests under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) for information on any discussions the Commission had about medical cannabis and specifically the only cannabis study referenced in the President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis draft final report .

The Opioid Crisis draft lacks any mention of the available and sophisticated clinical research data on the safety of cannabis to treat chronic pain. The information it presented focused largely on a single study--that was suspiciously released months ahead of schedule--which used survey data obtained before medical cannabis programs were operating in the United States.

“Trump’s Opioid Commission presented grossly misleading information in its final report, excluding proven strategies to reduce opioid deaths like medical cannabis,” said Steph Sherer, Executive Director of Americans for Safe Access.  “The timing of the only study they cite is suspect, as they did not use the best available science about medical cannabis. The practice of ignoring important clinical research, mirrors the data that was ignored in the 1990’s and early 2000’s on cannabis and chronic pain, when opioid prescribing multiplied across health care settings and led to the current epidemic of abuse, misuse, and addiction. Utilizing an alternative to opioids to treat chronic pain, such as medical cannabis, is a logical and proven strategy that must be used in a national strategy. Americans concerned about opioid addiction need to know how and why the Commission used this marginal study to ignore this proven alternative that can curb opioid deaths.”

The Commission was formed just months after the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine released “The Health Effects of Cannabis and Cannabinoids: The Current State of Evidence and Recommendations for Research (2017),” which compiled research from over 10,000 studies on cannabis and its components. The report found that “in adults with chronic pain, patients who were treated with cannabis or cannabinoids are more likely to experience a clinically significant reduction in pain symptoms” and “there is substantial evidence that cannabis is an effective treatment for chronic pain in adults.”

In the Commission’s introductory letter to the report, Christie  wrote:

“The Commission acknowledges that there is an active movement to promote the use of marijuana as an alternative medication for chronic pain and as a treatment for opioid addiction. Recent research out of the NIH’s National Institute on Drug Abuse found that marijuana use led to a 2 1⁄2 times greater chance that the marijuana user would become an opioid user and abuser. The Commission found this very disturbing. There is a lack of sophisticated outcome data on dose, potency, and abuse potential for marijuana. This mirrors the lack of data in the 1990’s and early 2000’s when opioid prescribing multiplied across health care settings and led to the current epidemic of abuse, misuse and addiction. The Commission urges that the same mistake is not made with the uninformed rush to put another drug legally on the market in the midst of an overdose epidemic.”  

Thirty states in the US have passed medical cannabis laws and another 16 have passed more limited laws around Cannabidiol (CBD). Research shows that opioid deaths have decreased in states with medical cannabis laws by as much as 25%.  In addition, researchers from UC Berkeley and Kent state found that out of 2,897 participants, “97 percent of the sample 'strongly agreed/agreed' that they are able to decrease the amount of opioids they consume when they also use cannabis. Furthermore, an NIH study found that medical cannabis legalization was associated with a 23% reduction in hospitalizations related to opioid dependence or abuse and a 13% reduction in opioid pain relief overdose.  However, President Trump’s  Commission ignored this and other research in lieu of one research study to the contrary.

The requests were sent to the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) and the National Institute of Drug Abuse. Through these requests,  Americans for Safe Access is hoping to discover why and how the Christie-sited study came about since it seemly was used in order to give the Commission a reason to ignore the requests of the thousands of direct inquiries regarding using medical cannabis as a tool to help with the crisis that the Commission received during the public comment period after the interim report was released.

Americans for Safe Access’ requests to the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the Commission provide:

“Disclosure of documents and communications of the ONDCP and President’s Commission on Drug Abuse and the Opioid Crisis relating to the approval, publishing, and dissemination of the  study named “Cannabis Use and Risk of Prescription Opioid Use Disorder” conducted by Drs. Mark Olfson, Melanie M. Wall, Ph.D, Shang-Min Liu, M.S., Carlos Blanco, M.D., Ph.D from March 1, 2017 through November 3rd, 2017.

This request also asks for any communications about medical cannabis generally as well as information or communications that led to the drafting, development, or decision making process of the below paragraph that appeared in the November 1st letter from the President’s Commission on Drug Abuse and the Opioid Crisis”

NIH and ONDCP have 20 Federal business days to deliver, ask for an extension, or deny the requested documents to Americans for Safe Access.

FOIA Requests to NIDA and ONDCP

Opioid Commission Report  

Americans for Safe Access Report: Medical Cannabis Access for Pain Treatment, A Viable Strategy to Address the Opioid Crisis