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CNN's Sanjay Gupta tells Jeff Sessions medical marijuana could curb opioid epidemic

Ben Schmitt
| Wednesday, April 25, 2018, 10:24 a.m.
Dr. Sanjay Gupta
Dr. Sanjay Gupta
Dr. Sanjay Gupta is a neurosurgeon and CNN's chief medical correspondent.
Dr. Sanjay Gupta is a neurosurgeon and CNN's chief medical correspondent.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta once viewed medical marijuana with skepticism.

Now he's hoping he can convince Attorney General Jeff Sessions of the drug's benefits and potential to slow the opioid epidemic.

Gupta, a neurosurgeon and CNN's chief medical correspondent, wrote an open letter to Sessions about the relationship between marijuana and opioids, leading up to the Sunday premiere of CNN's special report, Weed 4: Pot Versus Pills.

“Not only can cannabis work for a variety of conditions such as epilepsy, multiple sclerosis and pain, sometimes, it is the only thing that works,” Gupta said. “I changed my mind, and I am certain you can, as well.”

Gupta said that medical marijuana is a much safer alternative to opioids in treating pain.

“Before I started this worldwide, in-depth investigation, I was not particularly impressed by the results of medical marijuana research, but a few years later, as I started to dedicate time with patients and scientists in various countries, I came to a different conclusion,” he wrote. “... I have seen this firsthand. All over the country, I have met patients who have weaned themselves off opioids using cannabis.”

Under federal law, marijuana remains a Schedule I controlled substance, similar to heroin. Sessions has said he will continue to allow federal prosecutors to enforce the drug law.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf signed a bill legalizing medical marijuana in 2016.

Under state law, patients can apply for a state-issued medical marijuana card if a doctor certifies they have one of 21 qualified medical conditions, including epilepsy, cancer, Crohn's disease, multiple sclerosis and seizure disorders.

Qualified patients with a doctor's recommendation will receive a Pennsylvania medical marijuana identification card, allowing the purchase of medical marijuana from an authorized state-licensed medical marijuana dispensary.

Dispensaries, which began opening in February , are also allowed to sell equipment, such as vaping devices for liquid forms, to administer medical marijuana.

Earlier this month, Pennsylvania's health secretary, Dr. Rachel Levine, approved a state advisory board's recommendation to allow medical marijuana as a treatment for opioid abuse.

Ben Schmitt is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7991, bschmitt@tribweb.com or via Twitter @Bencschmitt.

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