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Could medical marijuana help the heroin epidemic?

There's a new debate over whether medical marijuana could help fight the heroin epidemic by being used to treat chronic pain (WSYX/WTTE)

Governor John Kasich told Time Magazine he did not believe medical marijuana will stop the state's opioid epidemic but cannabis supporters think it could stop the cycle of addiction. Cannabis supporters said marijuana would be a safer way to treat chronic pain.

"They come to me saying, 'Doc I do not want to take these pills anymore.' That's their main goal," said Dr. Dustin Sulak, a Maine osteopathic physician who prescribes medical marijuana to many of his patients. "They know these pills are making them dependents, making them addicts."

Sulak said nearly half of his patients stop using opioids altogether after they started using cannabis.

"Most of them were prescribed these pills by their doctors for pain," he said. "The reason why is the doctors don't have a better option."

He has toured the country trying to share his experience with other doctors.

"They don't know much about it," Sulak said. "There's no coverage of this in medical school."

Kasich isn't the only skeptic though. Marcie Seidel with the Drug Free Action Alliance in Columbus said there's no easy fix to the heroin epidemic.

"We've put too much stock in medical marijuana being the panacea for almost every disease and condition," Seidel said.

She said marijuana has its own flaws as a treatment and more research is needed to see how it affects people with different diseases.

"There could be other alternatives to take a look at," she said. "I know that physical therapy is one that we need to look at, perhaps acupuncture, any number of things we can look at to curb the pain."

Medical marijuana has become legal in Ohio but so far patients who want to try it still can't get it. It could take until September 2018 at the latest for Ohio's program to be up and running.

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