LCHM Summer 2017 - 16

FEATURE

Not only has medical marijuana been proven to relieve patients'
suffering, it has also helped to drastically reduce the number of fatal
opioid overdoses. A study by the American Medical Association in
2014 found that states with medical marijuana laws saw a 25 percent
drop in deaths from opioid overdoses compared with states without
them. Additionally, the study found, individuals who used medical
marijuana for legitimate medical conditions decreased their use of
opioids by 50 percent.
Pennsylvanians have Gov. Wolf and their state legislators to thank
for enacting one of the most comprehensive medical marijuana laws
in the nation. Medical cannabis has been approved to treat 17 medical
conditions in both adults and children, including cancer, HIV/AIDS,
epilepsy, autism, ALS, and PTSD. Most significantly, the legislature
included chronic pain on the list of approved conditions. In the
battle to curb opioid addiction, the importance of this inclusion
cannot be overstated.
Adults will not be the only beneficiaries of Pennsylvania's new law.
Parents of children with epilepsy and autism will be heartened to know
that medical marijuana may soon offer another treatment option for
their children. Many readers may recall the story of 3-year-old Coloradan
Charlotte Figi, whose severe epilepsy was causing 300 seizures a week.
When her parents finally succeeded in persuading her doctors to try
medical marijuana, her seizures dropped to several a week. While much
research remains to be done around medical cannabis and conditions
in children, Pennsylvania lawmakers have offered hope to parents of
children with severe conditions that have proven resistant to other drugs.

P

BY BRUCE NICHOLSON, MD

ennsylvania is in the midst of an opioid crisis that continues to
worsen. For too many patients, seeking relief from their pain
has led to addiction - which, in some cases, has cost them their
lives. The commonwealth has the eighth-highest rate of fatal
opioid overdoses. More than 3,500 people died from opioid overdoses
in 2015 - up 23 percent from 2014. Officials expect to see a significant
uptick in this number for 2016, as well, once those numbers are in.
For the thousands of suffering patients and families who have bemoaned
the lack of an effective, safe treatment for pain, a solution may be on the
horizon. In 2017, Pennsylvania joined 29 other states across the nation
that have legalized medical marijuana.

The state has also taken steps to ensure the safety of Pennsylvanians
around the production, sale, and use of medical marijuana. Medical
cannabis - which must meet federal Food and Drug Administration
regulations - will only be available to patients in the form of pills, oils,
topical creams, tincture, and liquid. Vaporization or nebulization of
medical marijuana will be an option, when medically appropriate. In
Pennsylvania, it will not be sold in the dry-leaf or plant form that is
commonly used for recreational use.
Patients will need a certification from a physician stating that they
suffer from one or more of the approved medical conditions to purchase
medical marijuana from an approved dispensary. They will also need
to register with the state and purchase a valid ID card.

Next year, medical marijuana will not only offer Pennsylvanians
the opportunity for a safer form of effective pain relief, but may also
Cannabis has come a long way from being considered only a recreational offer the state a hopeful first step in the fight against the opioid crisis.
substance. Countless studies have shown that cannabinoids - the chemical Pennsylvania deserves this chance to reclaim lives from the relentless
compounds found in cannabis - have an impact on pain and inflammation grip of addiction.
that is 20 times greater than aspirin, with very little risk. When cannabis
is converted to a medical form such as pills or ointments, the THC - the Bruce Nicholson, M.D., is a pain management physician who was a member
main mind-altering chemical found in marijuana - is reduced. Many of the Medical Marijuana Advisory Board that will provide input to the
patients have found effective pain relief with medical marijuana, with Pennsylvania Department of Health.
minimal or no psychoactive effects.
16 Lehigh County Health & Medicine | SUMMER 2017



Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of LCHM Summer 2017

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