Medical marijuana can save lives just as promoting safe sex did in the 1980s, according to an addiction specialist that thinks cannabis can reduce the number of lives lost to the opioid epidemic just as condoms spared many people from becoming casualties of the AIDS epidemic.

“Cannabis is the condom of the opioid crisis,” Joe Schrank - Founder of the LA-based addiction clinic High Sobriety - said last Thursday at the University of Sciences in Philadelphia, which hosted a discussion about the place of cannabis in alleviating Pennsylvania's opioid crisis. Schrank added that patients at High Sobriety use medical marijuana as part of their treatment.

Schrank's view was supported by Devin Reaves - Director of the Pennsylvania Harm Reduction Coalition. During Thursday's discussion, Reaves criticized substance-abuse programs that push addicts to abstain from using cannabis during treatment. “You are either clean or you’re dirty, you’re either abstinent or you’re not. That’s a really dangerous way to think about things,” he said.

Reaves thinks its time to change those attitudes and that patients shouldn't be removed from recovery programs for cannabis use.

In contrast, Gail Scott, the manager of the university's Substance Use Disorders Institute, said she believes "there may be" a place for medical cannabis in helping people struggling with opioid addictions, but Schrank's views haven't been proven by science yet. “I’d like to see more research,” Scott said.

But Scott is optimistic about the role medical marijuana could play in the opioid crisis after a recent study suggested that states where medical marijuana is legal have fewer opioid related deaths. "[H]ere in Pennsylvania we may see some benefits,” from the incoming medical marijuana program, which was legalized in 2016. “The access is going to be broad. We’re allowing a lot of dispensaries.”