Medical marijuana clinical research gains momentum in Pennsylvania

BY Antoinette Alexander

The Pennsylvania Department of Health has approved eight universities as Certified Academic Clinical Research Centers in the state’s medical marijuana program, signaling the first step towards clinical research to commence in the commonwealth.

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

To date, such research has been limited given that cannabis is still illegal under federal law.

“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,” Wolf stated.

The eight universities include:

  • Drexel University College of Medicine, Philadelphia;
  • Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University, Philadelphia;
  • Penn State College of Medicine, Hershey;
  • Sidney Kimmel Medical College at Thomas Jefferson University, Philadelphia;
  • Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia;
  • University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, Pittsburgh;
  • Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine (LECOM), Erie; and
  • Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, Philadelphia.

In addition, the Department of Health developed temporary regulations to implement the recommendations of the Medical Marijuana Advisory Board, which includes expanding the list of serious medical conditions. These temporary regulations take effect on Thursday.

“We have expanded the number of serious medical conditions to include neurodegenerative diseases, terminal illness, dyskinetic and spastic movement disorders and opioid-use disorder,” stated Secretary of Health Rachel Levine. “It’s important to note that medical marijuana is not a substitute for proven treatments for opioid-use disorder. 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.”

Pennsylvania is the first state to add opioid-use disorder separately as an approved condition for medical marijuana patients.

“By adding opioid-use disorder as an approved medical condition under the program, we not only give physicians another tool for treatment of this devastating disease, but we allow for research to be conducted on medical marijuana’s effectiveness in treatment,” Levine added. “Only approved conditions under the law can be studied through our research program.”

Other recommendations 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.

The Medical Marijuana Program was signed into law by Wolf on April 17, 2016. More than 37,000 patients have registered to participate in the program, with more than 16,000 who have received their identification cards and received medical marijuana at a dispensary. One thousand physicians have registered for the program with more than 600 certified as practitioners.



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