Marijuana Is Not A Band-Aid for the Opioid Crisis, Warns Caron Treatment Centers
In response to Medical Marijuana Advisory Board recommendations, Caron Treatment Centers warns Pennsylvania cannot proceed responsibly without research
Wernersville, PA – (April 20, 2018) -- Caron Treatment Centers is strongly urging the Pennsylvania Secretary of Health and Physician General Rachel Levine to remove opioid addiction from the list of conditions that will qualify for medical marijuana after Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf announced his support for the Medical Marijuana Advisory Board’s recommendations. This expansion of medical marijuana to treat opioid use disorder will make Pennsylvania only the second state to allow marijuana to be used for this purpose.
Although the Board’s recommendation is well-meaning, Caron warns policymakers this decision is premature. Caron and other like-minded, reputable treatment organizations agree that effective, life-saving addiction treatment is evidence-based.
“We should be focusing on proven addiction treatment methods that we know work and have been studied extensively, not bringing in another substance that has known and documented addictive qualities and little to no research on its use and efficacy as a medical treatment,” said Dr. Joseph Garbely, FASAM, vice president of medical services and medical director at Caron.
Garbely continues, “There are no adequate studies showing marijuana is effective for general medical use, let alone to treat opioid addiction—a chronic and fatal disease that requires tested and proven lifesaving treatment. While some studies have been conducted on the use of marijuana for certain conditions, it hasn’t undergone anything close to the rigorous screening needed for FDA approval. In fact, as a whole, it appears that the medical marijuana industry has side-stepped FDA clearance.”
Substances now used for medication-assisted treatment (MAT) have a host of qualifications that marijuana does not, such as accurate and precise dosing, closely monitored administration by a doctor, peer-reviewed research, and FDA approval. “When a doctor prescribes a medication, it’s regulated, top-to-bottom, and everything in it is disclosed. We don't have that assurance when it comes to marijuana. The variables and variations within marijuana products are huge. Simply put, we should not put more lives on the line without more research on medical marijuana as a method for addiction treatment. We should be focusing on helping more people access evidence-based addiction treatment that works,” added Garbely.
Further, Caron points out, this decision perpetuates our culture’s dangerous normalization of marijuana. Adolescents are at most risk from marijuana use. Research shows marijuana can cause a permanent drop of six IQ points in adolescents and damage to the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain used for planning, impulse, and decision-making. Yet, of the top 10 states in youth marijuana use, every single one has either legalized marijuana entirely or made it available for medicinal use. In the bottom 10 states, marijuana is still considered illegal. “Teenage marijuana use is a predictor of substance use disorder later in life,” highlights Dr. Garbely, “contributing to the problem we are trying to solve in the first place.”
Two decades ago, opioids were considered the most effective way to manage pain, and they were used generously without adequate research. That led to the current unprecedented opioid public health crisis in the United States.
Caron urges policymakers to reexamine Pennsylvania’s place as the second state to allow use of medical marijuana for treating opioid addiction, and asks: Is this the kind of trail we want to be blazing? Or, ironically, are we making the same mistake with marijuana as we did with opioids -- providing a substance to the public as a treatment option without the data to back it up?
About Caron Treatment Centers
With 60 years in the field, Caron Treatment Centers operates lifesaving addiction and behavioral healthcare treatment. Caron is headquartered in Wernersville, Pennsylvania, with Ocean Drive and Caron Renaissance located in Palm Beach County, Florida. Caron has recovery centers in New England, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., which offer community and recovery support. Caron’s Recovery Centers in Atlanta and New York City also offer pre- and post-treatment services. Caron has the most extensive continuum of care including teens, young adults, mid-life adults, older adults, chronic pain, executives, healthcare and legal professionals and families. Caron’s treatment is customized to meet the needs of individuals and families – with highly trained teams prepared to address co-occurring disorders. Caron offers an innovative approach to ongoing recovery care support for its patients and their families with online peer groups and other resources during the first year of transition following discharge. For more information on Caron, please visit Caron at www.caron.org or follow us on Twitter @CaronTreatment.
By Doug Tieman