Decision on adding anxiety, Tourette syndrome to medical marijuana list coming this summer

By: - May 15, 2019 12:29 pm

The head of Pennsylvania’s Department of Health will decide this summer whether anxiety and Tourette syndrome will be added as qualifying conditions for medical marijuana.

Dr. Rachel Levine, the state Health secretary, said she knew she was disappointing some of those gathered at a Wednesday meeting of the Medical Marijuana Advisory Board. But she told those assembled she needs more time to “thoroughly review” the literature around the conditions.

Levine promised an announcement will be made before the Aug. 14 advisory board meeting.

Right now, people diagnosed with 21 conditions qualify for a medical marijuana prescription. These conditions include cancer, epilepsy, chronic pain, and opioid use disorder in special cases.

That last qualifier was debated Wednesday, as the board considered applications to add and remove conditions to the state’s official list.

An unidentified party submitted an application to remove opioid use disorder from the list, an idea supported by four board members who were present or on the phone, including Lt. Col. Robert Evanchick of the Pennsylvania State Police.

Berks County District Attorney John Adams, who voted against adding the condition originally, said his research has led him to conclude, “basically you’re substituting one addictive drug for another, and that is ineffective.”

Luke Shultz, a patient advocate appointed by Gov. Tom Wolf, said if the state removed the condition, approved research institutions would lose the opportunity to study medical marijuana’s efficacy in treating the disorder.

Last year, the Wolf administration designated eight Pennsylvania universities — including the University of Pennsylvania, Temple University, and Penn State College of Medicine — as Certified Academic Clinical Research Centers. The research program was delayed in December, when the Health department rejected all supplier applicants.

John J. Collins, director of the Office of Medical Marijuana, said 75 percent of the research initiatives submitted by the centers focus on studying opioid use disorder.

The application to remove opioid use disorder was rejected by the board, as were several other applications for technical reasons.

Last year, the Medical Marijuana Advisory Board approved a process that allows individuals to suggest new conditions on a rolling basis. Levine stressed the importance of suggesting just one condition at a time, since the application must be considered as a whole.

“It’s limiting our ability to successfully review and approve potential conditions,” she said.

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Sarah Anne Hughes
Sarah Anne Hughes

Associate Editor Sarah Anne Hughes covers the governor and Pennsylvania's agencies. Before joining the Capital-Star, she was the state capitol reporter for Billy Penn and The Incline, and a 2018 corps member for Report for America. She was previously managing editor of Washington City Paper, editor-in-chief of DCist, and a national blogger for The Washington Post.