Later this July, Pennsylvania’s list of 21 conditions that qualify for medical marijuana treatments will grow to 23. On Thursday, Pennsylvania’s Department of Health approved the addition of two new qualifying conditions: anxiety and Tourette Syndrome. According to Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine, the decision to add the two conditions wasn’t an easy one. But ultimately, Levine approved the conditions in light of growing evidence that cannabis can be an affective adjunct to traditional anxiety and Tourette Syndrome treatments.
The addition of the two conditions could transform Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana program. While the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) say it’s difficult to know exactly how many people have Tourette Syndrome, studies estimate that 1 of every 162 (0.6 percent) of children in the U.S. lives with the condition. Furthermore, anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting more than 18 percent of the adult population.
Pennsylvania’s Medical Marijuana Act became law in April 2016. But it would take until early 2018 for the program to be fully up and running. The law mandates that the state’s medical marijuana program be run by a Director of Medical Marijuana and a 15-member Advisory Board. The board’s goals are to monitor the program, evaluate feedback from the public and industry stakeholders and importantly, propose changes to program’s rules and requirements.
Pennsylvania’s Medical Marijuana Advisory Board has already increased the number of conditions that qualify for cannabis treatments under the law. In 2016, the Commonwealth’s medical marijuana program listed 17 qualifying conditions. In 2018, the board and Health Department upped the number to 21.
During a meeting in early 2019, the Advisory Board voted to approve the addition of anxiety and Tourette Syndrome. And at a May 15 meeting, the Board discussed the issue with Dr. Levine. The board had already approved the addition of the two conditions. But the decision required final approval from the Department of Health.
That decision came on July 11, when Dr. Levine announced that she had approved anxiety and Tourette Syndrome as qualifying conditions for medical marijuana. But the Health Secretary qualified her approval by saying that cannabis should not be viewed as replacement for traditional treatments.
“For both conditions, medical marijuana is not first line treatment and should not replace traditional therapies but should be used in conjunction with them, when recommended by a physician,” Levine said during a press conference.
As Pennsylvania Health Secretary Dr. Levine acknowledges, evidence is mounting in support of using medical cannabis to treat anxiety and Tourette Syndrome. Recent studies like this one out of New Zealand, for example, found that a combination of 10.8 mg THC and 10 mg CBD taken twice daily reduced the frequency and severity of motor and vocal tics in patients’ with Tourette Syndrome. Other studies have identified the anti-anxiety and anxiety-reducing effects of cannabidiol (CBD). Another 2017 study found that THC appears to decrease anxiety at lower doses, but contributes to anxiety at higher doses. The same study found that CBD helps reduce anxiety at any dosage.
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