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Is Medical Cannabis The Cure To Our Opioid Epidemic?

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MIAMI (CBSMiami) – With the opioid epidemic still raging, doctors are looking at alternatives to addictive prescriptions for treating chronic pain. Medical marijuana is legal in 29 states and advocates say legalizing medical cannabis could help curb the nation's drug crisis.

Christine Stenquist suffered through a brain tumor, fibromyalgia and debilitating headaches, chronic pain which led to 45 different prescription drugs.

"Migraines were just constant so they started me on a lot of pharmaceuticals and that went on for 16 years," Christine explained.

Between the pain and the opioids, the mother of four was left bedridden. Eventually, she decided to give medical marijuana a try.

"This is a whole different lifestyle. I'm eating healthier, I'm more active, more alert," she said.

Stenquist is one of a growing number of Americans who've traded in their powerful and addictive painkillers for the green alternative.

Research in the Journal of the American Medical Association shows in states where medical marijuana is legal, opioid overdose deaths are down as much as 25-percent.

"When we look at tools to combat the opioid crisis, I think it's amazing that medical cannabis is a tool we can use," said Steph Sherer of Americans for Safe Access.

Sherer is the founder of Americans for Safe Access.

"At the heart of all of our challenges is the fact that the federal government sees cannabis as more dangerous than methamphetamines or cocaine."

The DEA still warns of a high potential for abuse and Attorney General Jeff Sessions has described marijuana as "only slightly less awful" than heroin.

"I reject the idea that America will be a better place if it can just have more marijuana," said Sessions.

Dr. Carla Rossotti Vazquez treats pain patients and disagrees.

"I've had patients that since they've been using their vaporizers with cannabis they've decreased their use of Ambien, of Clonazepam, of Percocet," she said.

"Within 6 months I was driving, within 8 months I was figuring out how to pass a law in my state," said Stenquist.

Stenquist knows in her home state of Utah, that could be an uphill battle.

Deaths from prescription painkillers have more than quadrupled since 1999 according to the CDC.

91 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose.

In Florida, House lawmakers are ready to vote on a newly-amended bill to regulate the state's medical marijuana industry. The newly amended bill gets rid of the 90-day waiting period for patients to be prescribed medical cannabis, reduces training requirements for doctor, adds edibles and "vaping" as well.

However, it doesn't allow smokeable marijuana and neither does the Senate version of the bill.

Medical marijuana has been one of the most hotly-debated issues during this year's legislative session and state lawmakers will need to reach some sort of agreement over how to move forward with its regulation before the legislative session ends on Friday.

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