Medical marijuana is showing success as a treatment for opioid addiction, according to representatives from a Lehigh Valley medical marijuana dispensary.
Bradley Carlson, director of pharmacy at Keystone Canna Remedies in Bethlehem, said some patients have been able to wean themselves off painkillers with the help of medical marijuana, while others are not taking as many pain pills as they previously had.
“It is showing promising results,” Carlson said.
He and Keystone Canna Remedies founder Victor Guadagnino spoke at Monday’s Step-Up Tamaqua meeting at Trinity United Church of Christ. The group discusses addiction issues and provides support for those in recovery.
The state Department of Health recently added addiction to the list of qualifying conditions for medical marijuana. The drug also has been approved for the treatment of chronic pain, Carlson said.
“The use of opioid medications and marijuana together has been demonstrated to have a ‘greater than additive’ benefit for pain control compared to using either alone,” he said.
As a result, patients are cutting back on the number of pain medications they take.
Unlike opioids, marijuana has anti-inflammatory properties which helps treat the source of patients’ pain, according to Carlson. The drug is also safer because it does not affect the kidneys or liver like opioids can.
“A lot of times marijuana has been touted as a gateway drug,” or one that leads to the use of stronger drugs, Carlson said. “That concept has been disproven. Some believe it is an exit drug because people have been able to cut down on their other medications and even alcohol.”
He explained that there have been no documented deaths from marijuana overdoses.
“Although it is not without side effects, marijuana is a safe alternative therapy compared to increasing doses of opioids,” Carlson said.
It is also helpful in reducing the intensity of withdrawal symptoms such as nausea, appetite loss and tremors.
In Pennsylvania, medical marijuana may be inhaled through a vaporizer or nebulizer, applied topically or ingested by mouth. Oils, capsules, tinctures and lotions are among the various delivery methods but smoking the drug is not an approved format in the commonwealth.
Carlson said some patients might report feeling dizzy when they first start the treatment. The medication can be adjusted accordingly.
“They don’t want a euphoric effect. Our goal is not to get patients high. Our goal is to get patients symptom relief,” he said.
Patients must be given the OK for medical marijuana by an approved practitioner. Once they’re enrolled in the medical marijuana program, they pay for and receive an identification card from the Department of Health.
Following a consultation, pharmacists at medical marijuana dispensaries will determine which treatments are best.
Carlson said the cost of medical marijuana isn’t covered by insurance. He expects that it will be in time.
On average, he said, a patient spends $200 a month on the drug.
The drug is also approved to treat autism, cancer, Chron’s disease, glaucoma, epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease and other serious ailments.