HARRISBURG — Anxiety disorder and Tourette Syndrome will soon be added to the list of conditions eligible for treatment by medical marijuana in Pennsylvania.
Pennsylvania Health Secretary Rachel Levine announced Thursday that people with those medical conditions will be eligible for medical marijuana beginning July 20.
She said there are now 23 medical conditions for which people can get medical marijuana in Pennsylvania, including cancer, chronic pain, post-traumatic stress disorder, epilepsy and HIV/AIDS.
There are close to 111,000 active patient certifications as part of the medical marijuana program. More than 1,600 physicians have approved to issue medical marijuana cards to patients in Pennsylvania, according to the Department of Health.
The use of marijuana for anxiety has been controversial in other states, including Ohio, according to news reports. Cleveland.com reported Wednesday that the Ohio medical board plans a hearing in August to consider whether marijuana is appropriate for anxiety. The board was originally scheduled to approve the use of marijuana for anxiety in June but put off a decision after doctors from a Columbus hospital objected, the web site reported.
In Pennsylvania, Levine said the move to add anxiety disorder and Tourette Syndrome to the list of qualifying conditions was recommended by the state medical marijuana advisory board earlier this year.
The health secretary waited to approve the change until after she’d had an opportunity to review the medical evidence.
“I do not take this lightly,” she said.
Levine had words of caution, particularly related to the use of medical marijuana for anxiety disorder.
She said that marijuana should only be used with other medication or if other medication isn’t working for anxiety.
Levine said that people with anxiety disorder should also continue seeking counseling if they are using medical marijuana.
Levine added that research suggests that medical cannabis most effective in treating anxiety are strains that have little Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the compound that makes marijuana users feel high, and greater levels of Cannabidiol (CBD), a compound that doesn’t have the same psychoactive effects.
“High rates of THC can make anxiety worse,” she said.
The health secretary was joined Thursday by representatives of the eight universities in the state that will conduct research into the effectiveness of medical marijuana.
The 2016 law that allowed for medical use of marijuana in Pennsylvania also called for the state to launch the research program. Last September, the Health Department approved the research centers at the Drexel University College of Medicine, the Temple University medical school, the Thomas Jefferson University medical school, the University of Pennsylvania medical school, and the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, all in Philadelphia; along with Penn State College of Medicine in Hershey and the Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine in Erie.
Kent Vrana, chair of the Department of Pharmacology at Penn State College of Medicine, said that research will include things like what ratios of THC-to-CBD are most effective and determining whether other compounds in marijuana have medical benefit.
John Finnerty reports from the Harrisburg Bureau for The Meadville Tribune and other Pennsylvania newspapers owned by CNHI. Email him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @cnhipa.