The physician from Compassionate Certification Center on West Cunningham Street said the addition of opioid addiction and withdrawal to the list of Pennsylvania-approved conditions to receive medical marijuana might lower the number of overdose deaths in Butler County.

Dr. Bryan DonerDr. Bryan Doner said Tuesday that medical marijuana can help patients with the acute symptoms of opioid withdrawal, like nausea, abdominal cramping, diarrhea and anxiety.

He said research is ongoing regarding the use of medical marijuana for the psychological aspect of addiction, like severe cravings, which is included in the expansion.

“Not only can it help ease the symptoms of opioid withdrawal, but it could prevent relapse in the long-term process too,” Doner said.

Gov. Tom Wolf announced in May that the state Department of Health had temporarily approved four additional conditions for which medical marijuana can be used.

The additional conditions are neurodegenerative diseases, terminal illness, dyskinetic and spastic movement disorders and opioid use.

Doner estimated that 10 to 15 medical marijuana cards have been attained for opioid use at the Butler Compassionate Certification Center location since the expansion took place May 17.

The patients have either been those on opioid replacement drugs like suboxone or methadone who wanted to try medical marijuana or those in acute withdrawal from opioids.

He said Pennsylvania is the first state to approve medical marijuana for opioid addiction therapy.

“Pennsylvania is obviously leading the way for this,” Doner said, “and the important thing is we are able to collect the data so we can prove whether medical marijuana is a sufficient opioid addiction therapy.”

A 2014 study showed that in states where medical marijuana is legal, opioid-related mortality dropped by 25 percent, Doner said.

“Based on that, I’m hopeful for Butler,” he said.

Doner stressed that the expansion only includes opioids. It does not include addiction to or withdrawal from drugs like Valium, Ativan, Klonopin, cocaine, ecstasy or alcohol.

“I would surmise that if medical marijuana is effective for opioid addiction, we would look at it for treating other addictive substances in the future,” Doner predicted.

A news release from Wolf’s office said, in addition to expanding the conditions, eight universities were approved as certified academic clinical research centers in the state’s medical marijuana program.

The universities will research the use of medical marijuana for various conditions. Certified universities in Western Pennsylvania include the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine in Erie.

Doner is very pleased with the Department of Health and Wolf for expanding the medical marijuana program in Pennsylvania.

“I’m very, very supportive,” he said. “It’s fantastic that Pennsylvania is leading the way and I’m really looking forward to seeing what the numbers show once we have good data.”

Trent Hartley, the cofounder of Cresco Yeltrah, which operates a medical marijuana dispensary on Pillow Street, said he expects to see an increase in traffic in the shop now that opioid addiction is an approved condition.

He said the expansion was approved at the perfect time, as many of his patients suffering from chronic pain have had their opioid pain medication cut down severely due to the addiction controversy in the last few months.

“One lady came in crying,” Hartley said. “They gave her 360 (opioid pain pills) per month and they cut her down to 120.”

The woman was treated with medical marijuana.

“A week later, she was in good spirits,” Hartley said.

He said he is excited to see additional help is available for those who accidentally and through a medical condition or injury got caught up in opioid addiction.

“In the last two years, I’ve been shocked at even some of my clients who have been caught up in it,” Hartley said. “It’s heartbreaking.”

He also lauded Harrisburg’s handling of the medical marijuana issue in general.

“Illinois is trying to do the same thing,” Hartley said. “We have 40,000 patients signed up for cards and 20,000 cards in hand.

“It took Illinois three years to get 40,000 patients. The Department of Health has done a great job.”

He said chronic pain sufferers and children with autism are his most frequent customers.

Author Biography

Paula Grubbs is a Butler County native who has been with the Butler and Cranberry Eagle newspapers since June 2000. Grubbs has covered the Mars School District and Middlesex Township for over 20 years with the Eagle and her former employer, the Cranberry Journal. She also covers Adams Township, Evans City and Mars in addition to events and incidents throughout Southwestern Butler County as assigned. Grubbs has taken the lead at the Cranberry Eagle in reporting on shale gas development, which has been a hotly debated topic in the recent past, both locally and nationally. A 1979 graduate of Butler Senior High School and a 1994 graduate of Geneva College, Grubbs has won a Golden Quill and four Keystone state awards, plus an award from the Society of Professional Journalists. Grubbs enjoys following the Penguins, Pirates and Steelers, volunteers with the Connoquenessing Creek Cleanup each summer, and loves spending time outdoors and bird watching at her Penn Township home. Grubbs is the daughter of James R. Davis Sr., of Center Township, and the late Maxine Davis. She has two grown children, Jacqueline and Thomas.

Source: Butler Eagle
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