By: Judith Cassel
The University of California, Berkeley and HelloMD recently announced that they will conduct the “largest patient survey study on cannabis, pain, and opioid use ever performed.” The study will use a database of nearly 100,000 patients to uncover how cannabis affects patients’ use of opioids. This announcement comes as Pennsylvania attempts to tackle its opioid abuse epidemic. Calling it “a top priority” for his administration, Governor Wolf recently toured the state seeking input from legislators, local officials, law enforcement, and medical professionals on how to solve the problem of opioid abuse in Pennsylvania.
As observed by Pennsylvania State Senator Daylin Leach, the answer to Pennsylvania’s opioid abuse problem may be in Pennsylvania’s Medical Marijuana Act. In addition to providing economic benefits to the Commonwealth, Senator Leach expects that medical marijuana will lead to a decrease in opioid abuse in Pennsylvania. As proof, the sponsor of Pennsylvania’s Medical Marijuana Act cites to other states with medical marijuana that have seen nearly a 25% reduction in deaths resulting from opioid abuse.
However, more research is needed to fully understand the benefits medical marijuana can provide to pain patients. While UC Berkeley’s survey study is a start, more in-depth research studying the cannabis plant itself is necessary. In the past, conducting medical marijuana research was an arduous process due to United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) limitations on the medical marijuana research supply and the U.S. Food & Drug Administration’s evaluation process. However, the DEA recently announced a policy change whereby it will approve more suppliers of medical marijuana for research. Furthermore, as Cannabis Law PA discussed previously, the Pennsylvania Medical Marijuana Act seeks to encourage medical marijuana research. For example, the Act delegates the tasks of establishing and obtaining federal approval of medical marijuana research studies to the Department of Health, leaving scientists to focus on study implementation. The Act also provides for special state funding to assist universities and health care systems engaged in medical marijuana research.
Undoubtedly, the complex opioid abuse problem in Pennsylvania will require more than one solution. However, as research continues, it is clear that medical marijuana is part of the equation.