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Clifton Park doctor applauds medical marijuana as replacement for opioids when possible

"I think the opiate crisis is a disaster and anything that helps, I'm all for,” said Dr. Eric Schnakenberg.

Dr. Schnakenberg, at Community Care Family Medicine in Clifton Park, is one of just a handful of Capital Region physicians certified to prescribe medical marijuana.

"Cannabis really works well, we've had very good success with… really having a better quality of life,” he explained.

The New York State Department of Health seems to agree, announcing Thursday that medical marijuana may be used as a replacement for opioids.

Now, patients with severe pain that doesn't meet the definition of chronic pain will be able to use medical marijuana instead of highly addictive opioids.

The Health Commissioner says this is a critical step in fighting the deadly heroin epidemic.

Dr. Schnakenberg said he treats 1 to 2 new patients per month for heroin addiction.

"Across the board from professionals, to college students, to people with no homes."

However, he says opioids are still beneficial under the right circumstances.

"For acute pain, wisdom tooth pain or you break your arm, cannabis is probably not going to be very helpful. Opiates will be much better. But when you get into the chronic pain scenarios… cannabis can be very helpful for that,” Schnakenberg said.

Still, cannabis comes with stigma, and Dr. Schnakenberg explains why the kind prescribed by your physician -- shouldn't.

"The oldest person we certified was 96, so you can imagine a 96 year old doesn't want to think about smoking pot. But this is not like your California, Colorado pot experience. It's a medical product, it's oil-based, it's pharmaceutical grade, it's a controlled dose and a controlled response."

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