Half of all medical marijuana permits issued in Pennsylvania are for severe or chronic pain.

That’s one finding from data obtained by WITF’s Transforming Health as the result of a right-to-know request. The Department of Health data breaks down the 105,613 medical marijuana permits issued in Pennsylvania since Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf legalized medical cannabis in 2016.

Post-traumatic stress disorder accounts for 14 percent of those permits, the second most-commonly requested qualifying medical condition.

Neuropathies – conditions that affect the nervous system – are the third most-common qualifying condition, making up about 9 percent of applicants. Cancer and remission therapy make up 8 percent of certifications.

Three percent of applications – 3,334 people – sought medical marijuana to treat opioid use disorder that hasn’t responded to “conventional therapeutic interventions,” or as a supplement to other therapies.

The breakdown of conditions lines up with what other medical marijuana states have seen, said Gail Groves Scott, manager of University of the Sciences Substance Use Disorders Institute.

“Pain is usually the number one medical condition,” Groves Scott said, pointing to public data from Minnesota, which she said has a similar medical cannabis program.

The usefulness of medical marijuana to treat PTSD is less clear, Groves Scott said. “There isn’t any high-quality evidence,” she said, citing a 2017 National Academy of Science Medical Cannabis report.

However, lack of clinical studies is common problem when seeking medical cannabis as a treatment, she said. Marijuana remains a Schedule 1 illegal substance, which makes it harder to conduct research.

Similarly, there aren’t clinical studies showing medical marijuana is effective in treating opioid addiction, she said. However, states like Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey are trying it out as part of a comprehensive effort to help people who are addicted to opioids.

“They’re not positioning it as an alternative to evidence-based treatments like buprenorphine and methadone,” Groves Scott said. “It’s a harm-reduction matter, is how I look at it.”

Health department spokesman Nate Wardle said the department knew there were “a number of people with various conditions who need medical marijuana to help them,” and the department is proud it’s getting medication to people who need it.

He said both the Medical Marijuana Advisory Board and by Secretary of Health Rachel Levine must approve any new conditions that would qualify for medical marijuana use. Anxiety and Tourette syndrome are under consideration.

Source: 90.5 WESA
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