Florida has a problem and the diagnosis is clear: too many of our state’s residents are in pain. Fortunately, the prognosis is good should lawmakers follow my recommendation — continue increasing access to medical cannabis.

As a practitioner with 23 years of experience in Interventional Pain Management, cannabis is the only medication I have found that actually improves the patient’s quality of life, while keeping them off the road to opiate addiction.

In fact, a growing body of research illustrates the benefits of cannabis in fighting the opioid epidemic. A 2016 study found a 42 percent reduction in patients’ opioid use after three months of medical cannabis treatment, while Scientific American reported in March “there is much promise for the development and use of cannabis-based medicines in the treatment of opioid addiction.” That’s particularly important for Florida, where opioid-related overdose deaths top the national average and have seen a dramatic increase in recent years.

Since the legalization of medical cannabis in 2016, I’ve treated patients with a variety of serious medical conditions. I’ve had incredible success using cannabis to wean patients off the addictive opioids that kill hundreds every day. I’ve seen cancer patients manage the side effects of chemotherapy and reduce the size of their tumors, while those with Crohn's disease saw complete resolution of their symptoms.

It is truly a life-changing treatment.

That is not to say that every patient is guaranteed the same results, but decades of research have shown cannabis to be a safe and effective medication for multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, PTSD and many other serious conditions. And particularly relevant to my field of work, a comprehensive review by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine found strong evidence to support the use of cannabis or cannabinoids as an effective treatment for chronic pain in adults.

As patients’ access to medical cannabis increases in their local communities, the benefits will continue to spread. And recent changes in Florida’s cannabis laws have opened new doors for patients. Governor DeSantis’s lifting of the state’s ban on smokable flower will allow patients to access vital treatments that improve their quality of life.

It was so encouraging to see lawmakers listen to their constituents and work together to improve the lives of Floridians in need of the full spectrum of cannabis’ medicinal benefits. Regardless of politics, this is the right thing to do. We must always put the health of our community first.

At the end of the day, that’s what being a doctor is all about. Nothing has provided me with more satisfaction than seeing my patients enjoy improved health, better relationships with friends and family, and a new outlook on life they never thought possible.

I hope that Florida’s elected leaders will continue to remove barriers to medical cannabis access, so that more people who are suffering are able to improve their wellness and lead reinvigorated lives.

Mark Hashim, Hudson

(Mark N. Hashim, M.D., is a Board Certified Anesthesiologist with offices in Hudson and Tampa.)