Few progressive politicians draw so much attention as Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a Massachusetts Democrat. Her positions on everything from Wall Street to the U.S. Supreme Court have come to define the vanguard of liberalism in America.

U.S. Sen. Elizabeth WarrenBut her stance on marijuana is especially notable. And Warren is getting increasing praised for it, including the endorsement of an Oregon psychiatrist who says she offers the best approach to marijuana reform.

Indeed, the senator is standing up for science that most politicians would avoid like the plague. And she doesn’t seem to care whom she bothers with it.

In February Warren wrote an open letter to the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, urging the health agency to investigate the efficacy of marijuana as a treatment for opiate addiction. That puts her well ahead of her peers on the issue.

Warren’s progressive views praised

Now Dr. Scott Mendelson, an Oregon psychiatrist, says Warren was “quite correct in her effort.” Mendelson penned an op-ed for the Huffington Post in March, arguing Warren’s position will move the United States closer to solving the opiate epidemic.

“In her letter she expressed her concern about the current epidemic of deaths by overdoses of opiate pain medications,” Mendelson wrote. “Among her recommendations was taking steps to broaden our understanding of how marijuana might both help relieve pain as well as reduce the number of deaths by opioid overdose. She was quite correct in her effort.”

Science backs him up – and Warren too. The country is suffering through one of the worst drug crises in its history. Americans, mostly in the Northeastern states, have been overdosing on heroin and other opiates in record numbers.

Opiates are a class of drugs typically used to treat severe pain. These substances are highly addictive, especially if used recreationally (contrary to general understanding, most users get hooked from recreational use, not as a result of legitimate pain treatment).

Marijuana curbs opiate addiction

OpiatesBut recent data have given progressive thinkers fresh hope in solving the problem. Recent studies have found that marijuana can be a highly effective method of treating opiate addiction. It’s a strategy called “harm reduction,” and its goal is to remove the negative consequences of heroin use without requiring abstinence from all drugs.

Further studies suggest that people who use both drugs together are much less likely to become addicted to prescription opiates. Taken together, the evidence supporting the use of marijuana as a substitute for heroin is strong.

Warren knows this. In her letter, she pointed out that fatal opiate overdoses increased by a massive 65 percent between 2012 and 2014. Mendelson added that overdoses have tripled since 2000.

Cannabis offers a safer alternative

Marijuana’s medical benefit in this regard stems from its efficacy in treating pain. Doctors started recommending the drug for this use at least as early as the 1890s, though researchers were stopped cold by early 20th century laws prohibiting cannabis for any use. The experience of states with medical marijuana, Mendelson said, proves that the presence of MMJ leads to a reduction in overdose deaths.

Most important, though, is the fact that cannabis is far safer than any opiate. Heroin in particular is so deadly because users have no way of knowing how pure each sample is, frequently leading them to take too much and die. Marijuana, by contrast, has never killed a single person.

“I find it ironic,” Mendelson wrote, “that the relatively minor side effects of marijuana have aroused such great concern among those opposed to greater utilization of marijuana. Thus, I wish to support Senator Warren’s encouragement of the scientific community to pursue marijuana as treatment for pain and as a means to reduce the tragic increases in deaths by opiate overdose.”

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