Rehab Medical Director Says Marijuana Addiction Treatment Recommendation "Premature"

Dr. Neil Capretto Wants More Evidence-backed Recovery Options

Jennifer Bloodworth
April 17, 2018 - 7:01 pm
Medical Marijuana Dispensary
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PITTSBURGH (NewsRadio 1020 KDKA) — Pennsylvania Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine approved the recommendations of the state Medical Marijuana Advisory Board Monday, including allowing medical cannabis as a treatment for opioid addiction and withdrawal. 

Some are praising the decision, the first of its kind in the U.S., calling it an opportunity for treatment options and research. 

Gateway Rehab's Medical Director Dr. Neil Capretto told the KDKA Radio Afternoon News new treatments are necessary.

"Our country and our region are facing the greatest drug epidemic that we've ever seen with opioid addiction and we're setting record numbers of drug overdose deaths devastating families," Dr. Capretto said. "We really need to be open minded about fining new and better ways to treat this problem and treat the addiction. and I try to maintain an open mind."

But he's not sure there's enough evidence demonstrating the benefits of medical marijuana for opioid addiction, calling the recommendation "premature," citing studies that have shown marijuana use can increase chances of opioid addiction or impede recovery efforts.

Dr. Capretto agrees the use of cannabis is better than opioids, especially for the treatment of pain.

"The consequences of opioid addiction are far more severe than addiction to marijuana," Dr. Capretto said. Marijuana carries a lower risk of addiction and overdose. 

The recently adopted recommendations, expected to take effect mid-summer, would not require people with substance use disorder to seek addiction treatment in order to obtain a prescription for medical marijuana. Patients would just have to qualify with a certify doctor in order to gain access to state dispensaries. 

"That's another concern because addiction – we believe it's a bio-, psycho-, social, and we'll often add spiritual disease – requires comprehensive, wrap-around treatment."

Dr. Capretto worries that only replacing the drug will not help people recover.

"I believe the chances of making your addiction and life condition worse are very real. It's just too premature." 

Other changes include legal sale of dried marijuana plant and flower products and an expanded list of qualifying conditions.