Pennsylvanians suffering from anxiety may soon be able to treat the disorder with medical marijuana.

The state Medical Marijuana Advisory Board on Friday voted to add anxiety and Tourette syndrome as conditions qualifying patients to buy medicinal cannabis at dispensaries across the state.

The board also voted to recommend that state legislators amend the Medical Marijuana Act of 2016 to add edibles as a permitted form of medical marijuana — as long as the permission comes with strict regulations related to labeling and packaging.

A half-dozen requests for adding other conditions such as insomnia, irritable bowel syndrome and Addison’s disease were denied.

Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine has final say over whether anxiety and Tourette will officially be included among qualifying conditions. While she agreed with the advisory board that the two applications included robust evidence supporting the benefits of marijuana treatment, Levine said she would review additional research before making her decision.

“Now, I’m looking beyond the applications,” she said. “I’ll be reviewing the medical literature very carefully before making my decision about these conditions.”

Patients must register with the state Department of Health and get an approved practitioner to certify they have a qualifying condition before obtaining a medical marijuana ID card.

The vote on Tourette included a provision that patients younger than 18 must be certified by a qualifying pediatric specialist.

Anxiety and Tourette are both qualifying conditions for medical marijuana in New Jersey.

Luke Schultz, a patient advocate from Berks County who serves on the advisory board, said he was thrilled about expanding the program to include more patients who could benefit. Schultz was one of five members who voted in favor of accepting anxiety as a qualifying condition because of the disorder’s tendency to exacerbate other health conditions.

“My own pain management doctor believes the biggest benefit of marijuana is its ability to help with anxiety, which if not controlled can lead to stress and other conditions affecting your overall health,” he said.

In November, the advisory board created a process by which people can request to add qualifying conditions for medical marijuana.

On Friday, the board rejected six applications because they included more than one condition or didn’t provide ample evidence of the benefits of medical marijuana’s outweighing potential health risks.

For example, one application included both autoimmune hepatitis and irritable bowel syndrome. Another included both insomnia and sleep apnea. The board requires applications to only address one condition.

The board also rejected applications for traumatic brain injury and for Addison’s disease because they mostly cited evidence that marijuana treatment works for similar but separate conditions. Multiple physicians on the board also noted that Addison’s is notoriously difficult to diagnose, with symptoms very similar to anorexia and other disorders.

The rejected applications don’t mean insomnia, irritable bowel syndrome, Addison’s or any other medical condition are necessarily off the table for marijuana treatment. Future applications just need sufficient evidence, Levine said.

If lawmakers were to add edibles — which are marijuana-infused gummies, candy, baked goods and other foods and beverages — that would offer users a convenient and more pleasant experience than other orally ingested forms, such as tinctures or pills, Schultz said. But the effect of medical marijuana is delayed in edibles and critics say that can cause people to consume too much. They also worry about edibles falling into the hands of children or adults who don’t realize there’s marijuana in them.

Schultz and other patient advocates hoped the Health Department would be able to add edibles using the same administrative process by which it added the dry leaf or flower form of medical marijuana. But the department determined edibles were outside the scope of the the Medical Marijuana Act and therefore required a legislative fix. Lawmakers, however, are under no obligation to consider the board’s recommendation.

About 112,000 patients have registered with the state’s medical marijuana program, and 80,000 have been issued ID cards, John Collins, director of the Office of Medical Marijuana, said Friday.

In addition, more than 1,000 medical practitioners have been approved to certify patients, with another 500 going through the training process, Collins said.

Dispensaries such as Keystone Canna Remedies in Bethlehem began selling medical marijuana in mid-February 2018. Two weeks shy of the one-year mark, dispensaries have sold $72 million worth of the product, Collins said. Growing and processing businesses, meanwhile, have sold $53 million worth of the product to dispensaries, Collins said.

There’s evidence medical marijuana is becoming more affordable, too, Collins said. The average purchase is now $129, down from $300 last February. It’s fallen sharply since dispensaries began offering marijuana in flower form in August, he added.

Author: Andrew Wagaman, Contact Reporter of The Morning Call
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