Anxiety will be added as a qualifying condition for Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana program

Anxiety will be added as a qualifying condition for Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana program
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Anxious people, rejoice. Pennsylvania’s Department of Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine has announced she is adding anxiety to the list of qualifying conditions for the commonwealth’s medical marijuana programs. Levine also announced that Tourette syndrome will be added. Both conditions will take effect Sat., July 20.

“After careful review of the medical literature available about these conditions, I have decided to approve this recommendation,” said Levine in a press release. "I do not take this decision lightly, and do have recommendations for physicians, dispensary pharmacists and patients in terms of the use of medical marijuana to treat these conditions.”

Levine added that patients should consult with health care providers to see if medical marijuana will be beneficial. She said medical marijuana is not the first line of treatment and shouldn’t replace traditional anxiety therapies but instead should be used in conjunction with them. She said cannabis with low tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and high cannabidiol (CBD) is more effective for treating anxiety. Studies have shown high concentrations of THC can actually lead to increased anxiety and paranoia.

Chris Kohan of Pittsburgh dispensary group The Healing Center said it is great that anxiety will finally be added to the list of qualifying conditions.

"We have seen so many people that treated themselves for anxiety," said Kohan noting that anxiety sufferers would resort to illegal marijuana for treatment. "It is great to see the state come around on this."

Kohan notes that adding anxiety is not only a plus in terms of more patients for dispensary runners like him, but also is beneficial to ensure anxiety patients are avoiding high THC marijuana, which can exacerbate their symptoms. 

After Pennsylvania's medical marijuana advisory board lost most of its powers earlier this year, it was unclear if Levine would add anxiety and Tourette syndrome to the list of qualifying conditions. Her announcement today eases some anxieties of marijuana advocates.

“I am very, very happy that the Department of Health is responsive to the advisory board's recommendations and to the needs of the patient community,” said Patrick Nightingale of marijuana advocacy group Pittsburgh NORML. “But it is unfortunate that if you don't have these qualifying conditions, it can lead to prosecution.”

Nightingale hopes this adds momentum to bringing other qualifying conditions into the medical cannabis program.

But other qualifying conditions that advocates want to see added, like depression and severe nausea, might be in for a long wait. Because most of the advisory board’s powers have expired, those changes would most likely have to be legislated through Republican-controlled chambers, at a time when most state Republicans aren’t very welcoming to marijuana laws.

Pennsylvania Democrats, led by Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D-Braddock) and state Rep. Jake Wheatley (D-Hill District), are pushing the state to adopt a recreational marijuana bill.

State Sen. Mike Folmer (R-Dauphin) was a champion of the current medical marijuana bill that passed in 2016 and wanted the bill to be more robust when passed, but doesn’t see any major changes to the medical marijuana law happening soon. His chief of staff Fred Sembach told City Paper in April could “take some time.”