Philadelphia Gets Green Light to Study Pot, Treat Opioid Addiction With Cannabis

Pennsylvania's growing medical marijuana industry received two major green lights Monday morning. 

Following recommendations highlighted last month, the Department of Health officially added opioid addiction to the list of approved conditions that can be treated by medicinal cannabis. And in a major boon to Philadelphia, five local institutions were awarded research licenses to study cannabis.

“It’s important to note that medical marijuana is not a substitute for proven treatments for opioid-use disorder,” Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine said. “In Pennsylvania, medical marijuana will be available to patients if all other treatment fails, or if a physician recommends that it be used in conjunction with traditional therapies.”


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Pennsylvania is the only state to allow the treatment of opioid-use disorder with medicinal marijuana.

Philadelaphia, in particular, continues to battle a burgeoning epidemic after 1,200 people died in 2017 of drug overdoses. Several local research institutions have expressed interest in studying how cannabis could help people struggling with addiction disorders. 

The list of medical schools receiving clinical licenses in Philadelphia include Drexel University College of Medicine, Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University, Sidney Kimmel Medical College at Thomas Jefferson University, Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania and Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine.

“The research component of Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana program sets it apart from the rest of the nation,” Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf said.

“Today, medical research is so limited by the federal government that only a few doctors can even have access to medical marijuana. Pennsylvania’s premiere medical schools will be able to help shape the future of treatment for patients who are in desperate need not just here, but across the country.”

Monday’s announcement marks the state’s aggressive expansion into a second phase of its medical cannabis program, which debuted just three months ago.

The new regulations take effect May 17. Other approved recommendations by the Department of Health include:

  • Revising the serious chronic pain definition to no longer require patients to use opioids before using medical marijuana;
  • Permitting medical marijuana to be dispensed in dry leaf or plant form, for administration by vaporization;
  • Allowing physicians to opt out of the public-facing practitioner list while remaining in the Patient and Caregiver Registry; and
  • Requiring patients to pay the $50 medical marijuana identification card fee once in a 12-month period.
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