Exploring Opioid Use Disorder as a Qualifying Condition for Medical Cannabis

symptoms of opioid use disorder

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services acknowledges the widespread misuse of opioids as an epidemic. Nearly one in three Americans know someone addicted to opioids. It’s a terrifying, yet seldom addressed reality: opioid addiction isn’t rare. 

However, we’ve been making progress in recent years as a nation to address this problem. In 2018, 5% of U.S. adults said they have abused or been addicted to opioids or prescription painkillers. It was just 1% the year prior and that same year, 2017, HHS officially declared the opioid epidemic a public health emergency. 

Opioid use disorder is even a qualifying condition in New Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey, as research shows cannabis might be a beneficial harm reduction tool. 

Take a look at these quick stats from 2021 about opioid use disorder:

  • 1.6 million Americans had an opioid disorder in the past year
  • 10.1 million misused prescription medications 
  • There were 48,006 deaths attributed to synthetic opioids other than methadone 

OxyContin, Vicodin, heroin, and fentanyl are all examples of opioids. One of the most dangerous realities about opioids is that they are easy to access. Opioids like OxyContin and Vicodin are prescribed by a doctor, and people who abuse opioids can often get them from their family members with prescriptions. A growing number of Americans, 46% in 2018, say it would be easy for them to get illicit opioids. 

What is Opioid-Use Disorder?


The opioid-use disorder is a physical and psychological reliance on opioids, and that dependence can start in as little as four to eight weeks. People with opioid use disorder will put their need to fuel their addiction above all other responsibilities. 

Some signs and symptoms of opioid use disorder include:

  • Increased tolerance for opioids
  • Opioid cravings 
  • Taking larger amounts than you’re prescribed over a long period of time
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms 
  • Using opioids in potentially hazardous situations 

If you have any of these symptoms, it’s important to talk with a doctor before diagnosing and treating yourself for opioid use disorder. 

Current Treatment for Opioid Use Disorder

Counseling for Opioid-Use Disorder

Methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone are the most effective treatments for opioid use disorder and they are all approved by the Food and Drug Administration. 

However, there are limited resources to distribute these medications and a lack of providers willing to do so, and the pre-existing barriers to healthcare, like insurance, make it even more challenging to obtain proper treatment. Some research shows these medications can actually make the individual more addicted to opioids, which is why some providers and patients avoid this treatment method. 

Counseling is also an option for opioid use disorder, as people often misuse opioids to self-manage their mental health conditions. Counseling is an effective way to get to the root of the problem, but it doesn’t work for everyone. 

The lack of treatment options is one reason why cannabis is being explored as an option for opioid use disorder. Opioid use disorder is currently a qualifying condition in four states: New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York, and New Mexico. 

States with medical cannabis programs are shown to have lower rates of opioid overdose deaths than states without a medical cannabis program, sometimes as much as 25%. 

How to Get a Medical Cannabis Card for Opioid Use Disorder

You must live in one of the four mentioned states to get a medical cannabis card for opioid use disorder. 

With that being said, the majority of states consider chronic pain a qualifying condition. If you are managing your chronic pain with opioids, there is a good chance you qualify for a medical cannabis card. If you are misusing opioids to manage your mental health conditions, cannabis might also be an option for you. Research shows that in the right dosage and format, cannabis can positively affect various mental health conditions. 

It’s important to talk to a doctor before treating yourself with medical cannabis, ideally an integrative provider. Integrative healthcare providers will look at your entire medical history and take current and past lifestyle factors into account. This approach will help determine whether or not you’re a good candidate for a medical cannabis card. 

Each state has their own rules when it comes to obtaining medical cannabis, but the general steps are virtually the same, no matter which qualifying condition you have. Here are the three basic steps to getting a medical cannabis card in your state:

  • Determine Your Eligibility: Each state has its own list of qualifying conditions. Read through yours and determine if you’re eligible. Some states have more leeway than others and give doctors the freedom to make their own judgments. 
  • Talk To A Doctor: A qualified healthcare provider is the only one allowed to recommend medical cannabis to you. There is usually a fee associated with talking with a physician because medical cannabis isn’t covered under health insurance. You will receive a written recommendation at this appointment if you qualify.
  • Apply With Your State: This is the final step before obtaining your medical cannabis card. Usually, patients won’t be rejected unless there is something wrong with their application. Be careful to read through all of the steps and prepare your needed documents before applying. 

Find a Doctor

More and more physicians are getting on board with medical cannabis, but it can still be intimidating to approach the conversation with your primary care provider. Or, maybe you don’t have insurance, and seeing a provider isn’t available to you. 

Heally is here to help. Our online and in-person network of providers is eligible to recommend medical cannabis in all legal states. To get the process started, fill out our online form. We’ll be in touch soon! 


Interested in alternative treatment options? Connect to an alternative medicine practitioner.

Interested in using cannabis as an alternative treatment? Get
your cannabis card with a licensed physician.