Pennsylvania Becomes First State to Approve Medical Marijuana to Treat Opioid Addiction

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Pennsylvania added four new illnesses to its Medical Marijuana Program’s list of qualifying conditions on Monday, May 14, 2018. One is opioid-use disorder.

The inclusion of opioid addiction on its list of qualifying conditions, bringing it up to 21, makes the Keystone state the first in the country to accept addiction as an illness that can be treated with medical cannabis.

“We have expanded the number of serious medical conditions to include neurodegenerative diseases, terminal illness, dyskinetic and spastic movement disorders and opioid-use disorder,” Pennsylvania’s Secretary of Health, Dr. Rachel Levine, wrote  Marijuana.com in an email.

Levine said that while medical cannabis won’t necessarily be the first or only substitute for other more established treatments in opioid recovery, marijuana may prove to be a viable option for some.

“We’re making medical marijuana available to patients if all other treatments fail, or if a physician recommends that it can used in conjunction with other traditional therapies,” Levine said.

Patrick Nightingale, an attorney and director of the Pittsburgh chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), noted that Dr. Levine’s quick action will save lives.

“Dr. Levine chose not to subject the additional four medical conditions to a 90-day comment period,” he said.

The changes took effect Thursday, May 17, 2018.

“No one expected it to happen with such speed, but this is all the better for patients who are suffering,” Nightingale told Marijuana.com. “Indeed, the real game-changer here is the decision to add opioid-use disorder to the list of qualifying conditions.”

According to 2016 data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Pennsylvania was fourth among five US states with the highest rates of death due to opioid overdose.

Levine also pointed out that adding opioid-use disorder as an approved medical condition “enables research to be carried out on medical marijuana’s effectiveness in treatment opioid-use disorder because only approved conditions can be studied through our research program.”

As such, Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf announced that the Department of Health has approved eight Pennsylvania universities as Certified Academic Clinical Research Centers that will “help shape the future of treatment for patients who are in desperate need not just here, but across the country.”

Pennsylvania’s health department also approved the sale of cannabis in flower form in dispensaries. When the medical marijuana program began earlier this year, only more expensive cannabis oils were available.

“Allowing the use of flower is another important issue because of the lower price point,” said Nightingale. “Although the law prohibits smoking, patients are now free to vaporize cannabis flowers.”

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