Medical Marijuana Takes Root in Washington and Greene Counties

Mark Leventry, owner of MW Leventry Construction in Windber, suspected something was wrong when he began having trouble with balance while standing on rooftops.

After undergoing tests, Leventry was diagnosed six years ago with multiple sclerosis.

As the disease progressed, it became nearly impossible for Leventry to sleep through the night because of pain and stiffness, especially in his left leg.

After other medications failed to provide relief, Leventry’s neurologist recommended medical cannabis.

“It works wonderfully,” said Leventry. “The first time I took it, within an hour and a half I was asleep and my leg wasn’t pounding. I can sleep all night now. It’s made an incredible difference.”

Leventry now makes a monthly nearly two-hour drive to The Healing Center, a medical marijuana dispensary at 799 West Chestnut St. in Washington, to pick up cannabis pills.

Since Gov. Tom Wolf signed legislation legalizing medical marijuana in Pennsylvania in April 2016, medical marijuana businesses have grown throughout the state – including Washington and Greene counties – and offer both a medical alternative for patients and an economic boost.

The Healing Center, which also has holistic services such as massage therapy and yoga, employs 20 and has served more than 4,000 customers since it opened in June.

Compassionate Certification Centers and Releaf Specialists, both Pittsburgh-based health care providers that opened offices in Washington, offer educational resources, provide medical marijuana evaluations and assist patients through the process of obtaining a medical marijuana card.

While the economic factor is important, Washington Mayor Scott Putnam supports medical marijuana as an alternative for people to fight the medical battles they are facing.

“Medical marijuana is a much needed option,” said Putnam. “(The local medical marijuana businesses) are operating and being utilized by our residents.”

The impact medical cannabis can have on people struck Dr. Bryan Doner, CEO and co-founder of Compassionate Certification Centers, when he was working as an emergency room physician and encountered a child with Dravet syndrome, a severe form of epilepsy.

The boy’s parents initially brought him into the emergency room frequently. But Dr. Doner started seeing him less and less.

“The reason was because his parents were going to Colorado to obtain medical marijuana, and I saw clinically the profound effect it could have on patients,” said Doner.

Medical marijuana businesses are legal and legitimate, and Putnam also welcomes any modest economic impact the industry has to draw people to the county.

Leventry, for example, usually stops at Krispy Kreme and Angelo’s, and last week stopped at Washington Crown Center to do Christmas shopping.

While legal in Pennsylvania and 32 other states, medical marijuana is illegal at the federal level.

Some medical cannabis patients believe their use of medical marijuana is supported by the community, while others, like Leventry, believe a stigma surrounds their medicinal choice.

But, notes Dr. John Metcalf, medical director of Releaf Specialists, “There’s never been one reported death from medical marijuana. It’s an effective herb, and it has effective results.”

Putnam said there has been no increase in crime and that the medical marijuana businesses have been good neighbors.

Educating the public, Doner said, is essential in eliminating that stigma.

In October, The Healing Center and CCC teamed with Liberty Holistic Industries, a cannabis cultivation center, for a Meet the Medical Marijuana All-Star Team event at Wild Things Park. On hand were physicians, pharmacists, growers and patient care representatives to educate the community about medical marijuana and provide on-site certifications, evaluations and treatment advice.

There are 21 conditions that qualify patients for medical marijuana, including Parkinson’s disease, autism, and most common, chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Medical marijuana also has proven to be an effective treatment for opioid addiction, and further studies on how it can be used to combat the opioid crisis are ongoing.

So far, 68,000 Pennsylvanians have qualified to take medical marijuana. Because medical cannabis is not FDA-approved and covered under insurance in Pennsylvania, patients pay out of pocket.

Leventry estimates he pays about $200 a month for his medical marijuana supply.

“It’s absolutely worth it,” he said.

Chris Kohan, CEO and co-founder of The Healing Center, which provides a variety of ointments, creams, tinctures, pills and dry leaf marijuana, said the industry has worked to provide competitive prices for patients who choose medical cannabis.

“We got into this for the reasons of helping people,” said Kohan. “We’ve suffered losses, and for us, this is personal.”

Metcalf said studies about why medical marijuana is effective are in its infancy, and considers Pennsylvania – where eight universities have been given the green light to research cannabis – a leader in the field.

For Doner, medical marijuana offers an effective alternative to patients for whom other treatments have failed.

John Donahoo of Washington County worked for 30 years in the coal mine, which left him with back, hip and knee issues.

In search of relief from constant pain, he recently registered for a medical marijuana card.

“I just want a day without pain. A moment without pain would be wonderful,” said Donahoo. “It never lets up. It consumes your life. I can’t wait to get my card. Medical marijuana is like a dream come true.”

Source: Observer Reporter

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