Pa. to use mar­i­juana in opiod fight

State to al­low sale of more-af­ford­able cannabis flower, too

Orlando Sentinel - - WALL STREET REPORT - By Sam Wood

The price of med­i­cal mar­i­juana could fall dra­mat­i­cally for some pa­tients by mid­sum­mer. And the drug will soon be used to treat opi­oid with­drawal in Penn­syl­va­nia, which will be­come the sec­ond state af­ter New Jersey to al­low it for that pur­pose.

At a news con­fer­ence in Har­ris­burg, Sec­re­tary of Health Rachel Levine said she­had ap­proved the sale of cannabis flower, the tra­di­tional smok­able or va­por­iz­able form of the­p­lant.

“It's an­other tool,” Levine said. “The whole idea of this pro­gram is to pro­vide an­other tool in the tool­box of physi­cians to treat these con­di­tions.”

Since the launch of the state med­i­cal mar­i­juana pro­gram in Fe­bru­ary, dis­pen­saries in Penn­syl­va­nia have sold only pricey mar­i­juana oils and ex­tracts. Flower, also known as leaf or bud, needs no pro­cess­ing and is less ex­pen­siveto pro­duce.

“For some pa­tients, the cost of their med­i­cal mar­i­juana could drop by 50 per­cent with the ad­di­tion of flower,” said Chris Visco, owner of Ter­raVida Holis­tic Cen­ters, a chain of dis­pen­saries with shops in Sellersville and Abing­ton. “It of­fers the low­est price per mil­ligram of THC, the ac­tive in­gre­di­ent.”

Mar­i­juana pro­ducer Char­lie Bachtell, CEO of Cresco Yel­trah, said be­ing able to sell plant ma­te­rial will stream­line a large part of his pro­duc­tion. “We just have to weigh it and put it in a con­tainer,” he said. “There's no man­ual labor­turn­ing it in­to­some­thing else, whether it's fill­ing a cap­sule or fill­ing a vape pen. Ev­ery time some­one touches it, it makes it more ex­pen­sive.”

Though smok­ing cannabis is pro­hib­ited by Penn­syl­va­nia law, the dif­fer­ence be­tween light­ing up and va­por­iza­tion is lit­er­ally a mat­ter of de­grees. Va­por­iz­ing re­quires less in­tense heat and a spe­cial­ized elec­tronic de­vice so that the mar­i­juana doesn't com­bust, but the method de­liv­ers the same psy­choac­tive and phys­i­cal ef­fects as smok­ing. (To dis­cour­age smok­ing, dis­pen­saries are for­bid­den from vend­ing pipes, bongs and rolling pa­pers.)

Nearly all of the 29 states that have le­gal­ized mar­i­juana in some form al­low for the dis­tri­bu­tion of plant ma­te­rial. Min­ne­sota and West Vir­ginia are among the last weed-le­gal states with laws ban­ning its sale.

Levine ac­cepted more than a dozen rec­om­men­da­tions made last week by the state's med­i­cal mar­i­juana ad­vi­sory board.

With her de­ci­sion, doc­tors will still need to reg­is­ter but will be able to opt out of the pub­lished registry. Ter­mi­nal ill­ness, neu­rode­gen­er­a­tive dis­eases, and dysk­i­netic and spas­tic move­ment dis­or­ders are now

Al­low­ing the use of cannabis to help wean peo­ple off of opi­oids may have the great­est im­pact on the state. New Jersey was the first to ap­prove “ad­dic­tion sub­sti­tute ther­apy for opi­oid re­duc­tion” last month. By adding treat­ment for opi­oid with­drawalto the list of ap­proved uses, Levine opened up the pos­si­bil­ity for clin­i­cal re­search on the two drugs at state health sys­tems.

“This is ma­jor news,” said physi­cian Sue Sis­ley, founder of the Scotts­dale Re­search In­sti­tute, where she re­searches med­i­cal mar­i­juana's ef­fects on PTSD in vet­er­ans. “We have all these opi­oid task forces in so many states, and al­most none of them even men­tion cannabis as a sub­sti­tu­tion for opi­oids as part of the treat­ment strat­egy.”

Sis­ley called Levine's de­ci­sion “coura­geous” but warned it could be po­lit­i­cally qual­i­fy­ing con­di­tions. “ra­dioac­tive.”

“It's a very con­ser­va­tive med­i­cal en­vi­ron­ment you have in Penn­syl­va­nia,” said Sis­ley, who serves on the steer­ing com­mit­tee of Jef­fer­son's Lam­bert Cen­ter for the Study of Medic­i­nal Cannabis and Hemp in Philadel­phia. “But Dr. Levine rec­og­nizes she needs to solve the prob­lem and start pre­vent­ing all these deaths that are all so pre­ventable.”

Ad­vo­cates ap­plauded the evo­lu­tion of the state mar­i­juana pro­gram.

“I am ec­static to­day,” said State Sen. Daylin Leach, who helped drive the leg­is­la­tion that be­came the state's med­i­cal mar­i­juana law. “Al­low­ing the whole plant will dra­mat­i­cal­ly­ex­pand the num­ber of pa­tients who ben­e­fit from med­i­cal cannabis and will go a long way to­ward guar­an­tee­ing that this huge new in­dus­try sur­vives and pros­pers.”

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