Pennsylvania Approves Medical Marijuana to Treat Opioid Addiction

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By Maureen Meehan

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.

“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.”

 

This post and headline were updated to remove a reference to the state being the first in the nation to allow opioid use disorder as a qualifying condition for medical cannabis use. New Jersey approved the condition in January 2018.

About Author

Maureen Meehan is a 25-year veteran journalist who worked in Latin America, the Middle East and Europe for NBC Radio & TV and numerous U.S., Canadian and European news outlets. She moved back to New York City in 2012 where she began writing for High Times magazine and continues her freelance career. After covering many wars around the world, Meehan finds the War on Drugs among the most perplexing, devastating and misguided.

24 Comments

  1. Since cannabis is non-toxic and non-addictive, it makes sense to allow people to try it first for a long list of medical conditions rather than start with other, more problematic medications.

    • King Kotton on

      Heroin is cheaper than cannabis in Pennsylvania sadly. In Colorado for instance a gram of extract is 25$-35$, here in PA it’s 65$-70$ a gram, making it cheaper for me to board a plane and bring back 3 months supply with hotel, car and airfare all adding up to less than the over the counter cost for the same amount here in PA.

      I have seen mostly older people at the dispensaries. I think this is because they don’t know where to go for pot. The younger generation doesn’t need such storefronts, we’ve been getting cannabis for decades without issue. So I see this providing relief to very few people, for instance, some of my friends who have medical marijuana cards, including myself, have gone back to the old ways.

      And adding flower will not make a difference either since it will be priced at 60$-80$ an eighth whereas in Colorado it is 100$ for an entire ounce of medical marijuana. You’ll push the customers you need back to the street and you will only retain the uneducated and unconnected portion of the demographic.

      Add the doctor certification and medical marijuana card itself and its another 250$ just to get in the door.

      I like to use my local dispensary that does not require medical certification, they have far better variety and quality not to mention an average savings of 50% compared to the medical marijuana program.

      • Only $60-$80 for a GRAM of concentrates?! Stop complaining! In MD it’s between $70-$90 for a 1/2 gram 🙄

      • Access is important to everyone for safety reasons. Storefronts ARE important. If you buy from somebody dealing you don’t know what else they might be dealing too. I’ve known dealers that sold hard drugs like crack too. I don’t want to be anywhere around that. Also the potential for robbery is much greater. My girlfriend got robbed at gunpoint when she was buying some weed, when armed masked gunmen stormed into the dealer’s house robbing him of his money and stash, and taking everybody else’s money too.
        My last dealer was killed and hacked into pieces in Seattle by a serial killer, whom I actually met on my last visit to him right before he was killed. The fellow was his new roommate he’d found on craigslist.
        So yeah, we DO need storefronts!

  2. Pot has & always will be available on the street or grown inside your house or back yard & is always going to be way, way cheaper. I’ve smoked it for 45 years & will till I die. It is & has always been the super pain relief medicine of all time & I ‘m glad I knew b4 hand when the pain got so bad with age.I do not grow it yet as it is illegal but when we get the go ahead you can count on it that I will as will every smart person alive battling pain.Marijuana should of never been put on the schedule ever. Pot being as bad as Heroin my ass. Not even in the same category period & non addictive . The only thing bad that might happen from pot is you eat to much & get fat.

    • Prices will get better with time. I can now get an Oz of nice smoke for $50 here in Oregon! I used to pay that much for an 8th off the street. Concentrate can be found for as little as $25/gram and runs around 60-75% THC.
      HANG IN THERE, THINGS WILL GET BETTER! 🙂

  3. Steven Auble on

    I think this is an awesome decision and it will definitely help the opioid problem we have in Philadelphia thank you

  4. I’m very pleased that it finally is legal here , I suffer from extreme chronic pain and cannabis is not specifically a pain reliever , but what is unquestionable is that even when experiencing pain and stress related to it Cannabis allows me to relax and go to sleep much quicker / sooner and the sleep is more restful making the whole cycle and consequent pain severity to be greatly diminished. The one thing I see as a major drawback to the way the Pennsylvania law is written is that in order to become part of the industry as a vendor , supplier to dispensaries, an individual cultivator in order to be able to circumvent the cost you have to shell out ridiculous amounts of money And the amount of permits is extremely limited.

  5. Douglas l. White on

    Anyone know if the Health Dept is conducting research on folks who have used cbd/thc medicine to wean from Opioid addiction? Personal accounts of effective types and strengths that allowed for transition to opioid independence will be beneficial to anyone who needs to be, but doesn’t know ( or is too afraid to try ). This will save lives if done properly.

  6. To everyone saying that pot is not addictive, you are wrong. I know that when my husband stopped smoking pot he began to experience withdrawal. He began having panic attacks, not being able to fall asleep and on the rare nights that he did he would wake up after just a few hours and would wake me up because his heart would be beating so fast that He would think that He was having a heart attack. He began having spells of shaking, feeling weak, dizziness and experiencing pain in his joints. There were many other withdrawal symptoms and all of them went on for well over 3 years. At my insistence he started to see his primary care doctor along with the many specialist that his doctor would make him see to make sure that there was nothing physically wrong with his body. Well into the second year of his symptoms, we were simply told that because of his daily use of marijuana for so many years, his body was going through withdrawal. I laughed at the doctor when he said it because I too thought pots not addictive! After 3 long years, my husband finally started feeling much better and each day he would feel better than the previous day. He was finally feeling back to himself and the best part was we both began to sleep again.

    • I have my own experience. I used cannabis on a daily basis regularly for over thirty years when I quit for several years. No withdrawal, no panic attacks, NOTHING – no problem. So to say it’s addictive is clearly NOT true.
      Now please understand, I’m not saying your husband didn’t have issues. But whatever they were, it wasn’t because the cannabis was addictive.

  7. There is nothing Big Pharna can supply to help people get off opioids that doesn’t kill or isn’t addictive in its own way. MJ had NEVER killed a person from overdose. Expect Big Pharma to try to stop Marijuana because they stand to lose Billions of dollars to MJ because it is harmless and their poison has and continues to kill tens of thousands. One person is dying from opioid overdose every 12 minuets, 24/7!

  8. Putting the “key” in Keystone state with this approval to use Marijuana for Opioid addiction. After my back surgery, my Dr. prescribed Oxycotin. I asked her if I could do any other drug, like Tramadol which is not an opioid, and I had been using it to get through the back pain from stenosis. She said I would need the heavy painkiller for after surgery recovery. She was right. While in Rehab they carefully regulated the painkiller and used a stool softener to avoid constipation those heavy drugs tend to cause. When I got home, I didn’t have the same strength of stool softener and on top of the pain from the surgery, I was in pain from constipation. Insult to injury it should be filed under. I asked my Dr. if I could use pot to wean off the oxy as I was already using it. She gave me permission and I was off the Oxy inside of a week! Mind you she couldn’t write an Rx for weed. But thought it would be a good idea.
    There are so many things Cannabis provides on the health scale. Looking forward to the discoveries that are to come.

  9. I’ve been on oxycodone 40mgs 3×s a day for five years now for cronic back pain and I smoke mj once a day needless to say my meds were stolen the other day and I’m now forced to either buy pills off the streets or smoke mj to help with the opiod withdrawal sickness guess I’ll be smoking 🌲 more than once a day for awhile.

  10. As a recovering Addict with over 30 years totally clean from all mood altering and mind changing substances as well as a licensed Psychotherapist who specializes in addiction treatment I will share my thoughts. First and foremost I am not opposed to medical use of cannabis for legitimate medical reasons. I am also not opposed to using cannabis as part of a detox protocol in addiction treatment however, to think that someone addicted to opiates is going to maintain on just cannabis is not going to work. As mentioned is an earlier post Addicts to get clean. I know thousands. Hey am not opposed to MAT it may keep people alive long enough to get clean. Cannabis does not hit the opiate receptor that would assist with craving.

    • Rudy Drasler on

      I have gotten clean off of suboxone on marijuana alone and am graduating with a bachelors degree in Psychology in the spring from a large university. You’re with the “AA” camp. Everyone I know graduating now is with the “harm-reduction” view. Your view is only there to support the pockets of these large rehab facilities imo.

  11. Don Karpowich on

    LETTER TO THE EDITOR:
    New Jersey added opioid addiction as a qualifying condition in March of 2018…New Jersey added opioid use disorder as a qualifying condition for medical marijuana patients in March 2018 BEFORE Pennsylvania….New Jersey was the first State to add Opioid addiction as a Qualifying Condition for Medical Marijuana

    • Lesley Nickus on

      Don, I looked into this and you are correct. Thank you for alerting us to this error. The article has been updated and the correction noted.

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