Pennsylvania’s medical cannabis program is moving forward with two major boosts. First, it has awarded licenses for cannabis research. Second, it has added opioid addiction to its list of qualifying conditions.
The Pennsylvania Department of Health officially included opioid addiction as a qualifying condition that merits prescription of medical cannabis. The health department added it to the list of approved medical conditions that can be treated by medical cannabis following recommendations by the Medical Marijuana Advisory Board.
According to Secretary of Health Rachel Levine, it should be noted that medical cannabis is not a substitute for clinically proven treatments for opioid use disorder. She also pointed out that in the state, medical cannabis will be available to patients only if all other forms of treatment fails or if a doctor recommends the use of the drug in conjunction with conventional therapies.
Philadelphia, in particular, continues to fight against the alarming opioid epidemic, with 1,200 deaths recorded by the city in 2017 as a result of drug overdose.
Currently, Pennsylvania is the only state in the country to legally allow medical cannabis in the treatment of opioid use disorder.
In March, the Department of Health released application guidelines for universities and hospitals who are interested in conducting research on medical cannabis. This is part of Phase 2 of the state’s medical cannabis program rollout.
In a new announcement, the state health department said that it has awarded eight medical colleges and universities the clinical licenses to study medical cannabis. These schools include:
- Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania
- Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University
- Drexel University College of Medicine
- Sidney Kimmel Medical College at Thomas Jefferson University
- Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine
Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf said that declaring these academic institutions Certified Academic Clinical Research Centers is going to help bulk up whatever meager research that’s already been done federally on medical cannabis.
Wolf said that medical research is very limited by the federal government right now that only a few doctors have access to medical cannabis. Pennsylvania’s premiere medical schools will help shape the future of medical cannabis treatment for patients who desperately need it – not just in the state but ultimately across the country.
These licensed medical schools will be working with separate cannabis growers and distributors who will supply the needed cannabis for research. These third-party vendors will also be supplying cannabis products to patients enrolled in the state’s medical cannabis program. These suppliers will also have to separately apply for approval from the state.
Pennsylvania, which legalized medical cannabis in 2016, is the only state in the U.S. to include a research component in its medical cannabis program. While Ohio and Florida have explored similar arrangements, these two states have not written anything into law yet.
The expansion of the state’s medical cannabis program into scientific research comes at a time when cannabis dispensaries here are still struggling to become fully operational.
Wolf said that the state medical cannabis program’s research component sets them apart from the rest of the country.
Other approved recommendations
Other approved recommendations by the Medical Marijuana Advisory Board of the Department of Health include:
- Revising the definition of serious chronic pain to no longer require the patients to use opioids before using medical cannabis;
- Allowing medical cannabis to be dispensed in plant or dry leaf form, which will be administered through vaporization;
- Allowing doctors to opt out of the public-facing practitioner list but still remain in the Patient and Caregiver Registry; and
- Requiring patients to pay the $50 as medical cannabis identification card fee once in a one-year period.