Pennsylvania sees surge in medical cannabis patients after adding anxiety to list of qualifying conditions
Cannabis is a naturally occurring plant that has been used medicinally throughout history – The history of cannabis and its usage by humans dates back to at least the third millennium BC, and possibly further back by archaeological evidence. For millennia, the plant has been valued for its use for fiber and rope, as food and medicine, and for its psychoactive properties for religious and recreational use. From its introduction into modern society, cannabis has been known to evoke a sense of relaxation, calmness, and euphoria, so it is no surprise it is now being utilized to treat such ailments as anxiety.
However, in more recent years it has faced an uphill battle and continues to be federally described as a schedule 1 substance. Thankfully, the stance is changing rapidly as 33 states have embraced cannabis medically and millions of patients are finally able to reap the benefits of this miracle plant.
Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana program formally began on Feb. 15, 2018. At the moment, 180,000 patients and 20,000 caregivers are registered in the system. Roughly 121,000 patients are actively purchasing medicine. That’s translated into about $200 million in sales by dispensaries to patients. Sales from medical cannabis grower/processors to dispensaries total $150 million.
The qualifying conditions to receive a medical marijuana card vary from state to state, but with time, more and more conditions and illnesses are being added as research is finally on the rise. In Pennsylvania, the list of qualifying conditions is lengthy, with anxiety being one of the most recent additions.
In July, Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine announced that anxiety would be added to a list of more than 20 qualifying medical cannabis conditions. In the first month, a staggering 3,000 people have been certified for anxiety disorders. That number has been surging by about 1,000 people a week since certifications began on July 20. Even more surprising, within just the first few days, 212 people were certified for medical cannabis because of anxiety, John Collins, director of the Office of Medical Marijuana, said at a meeting of the Medical Marijuana Advisory Board recently.
The wide variety of anxiety disorders differ by the objects or situations that induce them, but share features of excessive anxiety and related behavioral disturbances. Anxiety disorders can interfere with daily activities such as job performance, school work, and relationships. The wait for many patients was excruciating and many doctors and medical professionals see anxiety as a condition that could benefit immensely from the addition to medical cannabis to patient’s treatment regimens.
Sarah Makin of Makin Wellness in Pittsburgh and New Kensington is one of those professionals. Her clinics have seen an influx of patients since the addition of anxiety to the list since she’s embraced cannabis as a tool to use in conjunction with some of her clients.
“I think it’s a really fantastic thing and I’m really excited about it because I know that this is already helping so many people,” Makin said. “We’ve seen so many clients before that just simply did not qualify because they didn’t have PTSD or Opioid Use Disorder, but they’ve struggled with anxiety for years, so this has been a huge relief to so many people and we are just really excited to help more people heal and become happy again.”
Since Makin Wellness has embraced cannabis as a tool to use in conjunction with some of their clients, it’s been effective in helping people get into a more stable position with their situation.
“From what we’ve seen with our clients, it has been a really effective tool,” Makin said. “A lot of it really has to do with the dispensary pharmacist staff as well. Their input and their recommendations play a huge role in the treatment that our patients receive. So, when we coordinate care, it’s really fantastic.”
“One of the great things about medical cannabis is that it helps to increase the neuroplasticity in your brain. So, that’s basically your brain’s ability to connect and create new neurons, which begins to naturally decrease at the age of 35 years old. So, unless you’re doing things on purpose, to maintain your own plasticity, it’s automatically going to decrease. When your brain is at a higher state of neuroplasticity, you’re able to change and think differently more quickly, so just even that in and of itself, people appear to respond to the treatment more quickly when they are using medical cannabis and with the anxiety patients. So far, we’ve noticed that it really helps with reducing nervousness, it helps to mellow out, it helps with increasing quality of sleep, and another really big difference we noticed is that there’s a decreased level of agitation or irritability.”
Makin is the owner of Makin Wellness, therapy and coaching centers that specialize in holistic, mental health and addiction treatment.
“We’re able to do different evaluations, diagnose for different conditions and provide ongoing treatment as well,” Makin said. “Currently we’re able to evaluate and diagnose for all anxiety conditions, PTSD, Opioid Use Disorder, and Autism Disorder.”
Anxiety encompasses an extremely large list of disorders that, for years have been treated with pharmaceutical medications that may or may not have positive benefits and have caused an epidemic. To now have a natural product that has been used for centuries available for patients is groundbreaking. However, there’s still a stigma about seeking help from a mental health professional and some find the process of finding the right medicine difficult. Makin offered advice to anyone who may feel about calling somebody for help.
“Anxiety is very common, and the other thing is that it’s actually a very highly treatable condition,” she said. “So this is one of the conditions that you are very likely to overcome if you seek out help but not too many people really know or understand what an anxiety disorder is. So that’s why so many people don’t.”
“So, what I would say is that if you’re feeling upset, anxious, if you’ve gone through something traumatic, it is much more painful to hold onto that instead of reaching out for help. Reaching out for help might feel uncomfortable, or weird, but the relief that you will more than likely obtain in the long-run is gonna definitely be worth it. If you think about it, if someone is out of shape, the first time they go to the gym, it’s going to be very uncomfortable, but in the long-run, they’re gonna have a healthier, more fit body.”
Victor Guadagnino, Jr., Chief Development Officer for Keystone Canna Remedies says he has seen initial consults at their clinic almost double since the addition of anxiety to the list of qualifying conditions. Keystone Canna Remedies currently operates two locations, one in Bethlehem and another in Allentown.
“Chronic pain is still our leading qualifying condition I suspect anxiety could potentially beat it, but currently the leading conditions are chronic pain, PTSD, cancer and anxiety will probably come right up into there, Guadagnino said. “For anxiety patients, we want them to know that we are always going to be conscious of not exasperating their anxiety in the dosing strategy and we’re going to equip them with the tools to safely explore medical cannabis for a condition that is often stigmatized itself, in terms of just mental illness.”
Overall, patients who use medical cannabis say it helps to relieve anxiety, but some say it makes them feel more anxious. There is a wide assortment of cannabis strains, which all have different levels of the common chemicals, THC, and CBD. Research shows that THC and CBD can have opposite effects when used to treat anxiety disorders. THC is associated with feelings of paranoia and anxiety because it activates the amygdala area of the brain, which is responsible for fear. Alternatively, CBD counteracts such feelings from THC. Studies show that taking CBD on its own can lower – even eliminate – anxiety.
CBD is a non-psychoactive component of cannabis that has a wide range of therapeutic benefits. When CBD is at higher levels in medical cannabis, CBD can counteract TCH’s negative effects.
Most medical cannabis plants are high in levels of THC because it is commonly used to treat health conditions such as cancer, eating disorders and seizure disorders. TCH is also popular because it provides a floating, euphoric feeling that most people commonly experience when using cannabis. Strains with high levels of CBD have only recently become prominent in medical usage due to the budding awareness of its benefits.
Research proves that THC begins to raise anxiety levels after a certain threshold is passed, therefore those using medical cannabis to treat anxiety should seek out strains with high compounds of CBD when purchasing medical cannabis.
For those looking to treat anxiety disorders with cannabis, treatment relies heavily on research, consultation, and the appropriate strains and dosage. If you’re struggling with anxiety, you’re not alone. There are plenty of medical professionals available statewide to help you on your journey. Visit dispensemagazine.com to find a doctor today.