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Can Cannabis Address the Nation’s Opioid Epidemic? A Renowned Pennsylvania Pain Doctor Believes So

A nationally recognized pain physician in Pennsylvania is dedicated to making cannabis an accessible alternative to prescription opioids for pain management.

The United States is in the midst of an opioid overdose epidemic that claimed the lives of more than 33,000 Americans in 2015 alone. Commonly prescribed for severe or chronic pain, opioids carry a high risk for addiction and abuse. Encouragingly, findings in recent studies indicate that cannabis could play an instrumental role in addressing the epidemic, and a nationally-recognized pain physician in Pennsylvania is hoping to be at the forefront of the movement.

Bruce D. Nicholson, M.D. is an expert in pain management and the Chief Medical Officer of a new Pennsylvania-based healthcare organization that specializes in cannabis. His new center intends to focus on using cannabis as a safer alternative to opioids.

“Providing patients with safe and effective ways to manage their pain has always been one of the core goals of healthcare,” said Nicholson, in a statement. “The legalization and acceptance of medical marijuana is an important step in bringing non-opioid pain relief to those who need it most.”

Research has shown cannabis to be therapeutically beneficial for managing chronic and severe pain, including pain that had proven untreatable by more traditional treatment methods. Just this month, a study out of Oregon Health and Science University found cannabis to be both effective for treating pain and non-addictive.

Cannabis and its cannabinoids both have an excellent safety profile, according to Americans For Safe Access, and there has never been a death recorded from the use of cannabis. Last year, a collection of researchers published an editorial urging physicians to treat their chronic pain patients with cannabis rather than opioids.

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In a recent interview with The Morning Call, Nicholson said he hopes his new healthcare center will further “raise the science and… truly improve the medical aspect of how we look at prescribing marijuana.” He explained that he and his fellow group of clinicians at the facility would do clinical studies to understand how to best implement cannabis as a pain management method.

“If you look at the epidemiological data that has accumulated in states [where medical marijuana is legal] that have an indication for chronic pain, it suggests – and my colleagues that are in states that currently allow medical marijuana for treatment of pain have said this – that on average patients that start to use medical cannabis for treatment of chronic pain either decrease or completely stop using their opioids,” Nicholson said, in the interview.

Twenty-eight US states have so far legalized medical marijuana. Medical marijuana was legalized in Pennsylvania last April after Gov. Tom Wolf signed Senate Bill 3, although the implementation of the program is expected to take until 2018. Once the program is operational, patients with a physician’s certification will be able to use and possess marijuana for medical purposes. Severe chronic or intractable pain is among the program’s 17 qualifying conditions.

Learn more about the research done on cannabis’ efficacy for managing pain by visiting our education page. Keep up with the latest research and industry developments by regularly reading our news feed.