The list of illnesses qualifying for treatment with medical marijuana is growing.1 States continue to consider the legalization of marijuana for additional medicinal purposes and recreational use.2 Recently, Pennsylvania added two additional conditions, anxiety and Tourette syndrome, to the list of 21 eligible conditions including Inflammatory Bowel Disease, Multiple Sclerosis, and terminal cancer.1
The literature is not definitive, but scientific reports have shown that marijuana use can bring about a calming experience that temporarily relieves symptoms of anxiety for some people.2 Medical experts agree that medical marijuana is not a first-line treatment for anxiety and should not replace traditional therapies. Counseling, therapy, and medications continue to be the primary array of therapeutic approaches.1
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, more than 18% of the U.S. population is affected by anxiety disorder at any one time. It is considered to be the most common mental illness.1
Effects of marijuana
Marijuana is generally associated with a high feeling, experienced after smoking or ingesting. This is because it contains THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the chemical compound that causes psychoactive effects.2 Traditional THC can have side effects including dizziness, nausea, confusion, paranoia or a rise in heart rate which, if you have anxiety, can cause you to feel even more anxious. Some strains of marijuana are available with lower levels of THC and more cannabidiol (CBD). CBD has been seen to be more effective in treating anxiety and may moderate the effects of THC.1
A study at Washington State University reported that short-term benefits of smoking marijuana can significantly reduce self-reported levels of depression, anxiety, and stress.2
Access to marijuana
The use of medical marijuana needs to be directed by a physician. Different states have different rules.3 The new regulations in Pennsylvania require people to apply to the Department of Health for a medical marijuana card to participate in the program. To apply requires a doctor’s recommendation which is similar to writing a prescription. Medical marijuana is not recommended for use in treating children or adolescents who have anxiety disorders. Researchers and doctors agree that risks to developing adolescent brains exceed any potential benefits.1,2
New Pennsylvania regulation options permit vaping of medical marijuana or ingestion in oil form but do not permit smoking the drug or the sale of edibles.4 Legislation on the forms of marijuana or CBD that is acceptable is determined by each independent state.
Self-medication with marijuana
Concerns have been expressed by some physicians that using marijuana without medical supervision to treat or cope with anxiety or other medical problems is considered self-medicating. They suggest that though it may offer immediate relief of uncomfortable symptoms, it can become a vicious cycle, leading to repeated use.4 The long-term consequences of use in a wide variety of conditions have not been thoroughly studied, and so is not well understood. Others have expressed concern about the approved use of marijuana available to people with mental illness who may be predisposed toward addiction or substance abuse.4
Legalization of marijuana
Pennsylvania’s legalization follows New Jersey and Puerto Rico, with specific approval of anxiety as a qualifying condition for the use of medical marijuana. Ohio was set to approve usage in May 2019, but the full committee of the Ohio Medical Board decided to delay the decision pending additional findings requested by state medical organizations.4 Some states including, but not limited to, California, Maine, Massachusetts, as well as the District of Columbia, have legalized medical or recreational marijuana with a catch-all provision approving marijuana use as a treatment for all diseases deemed beneficial by a physician.4
Others have specific lists of eligible medical conditions while even more states have legalization of marijuana under legislative consideration. Websites that can provide additional and up to date information in your area include:
Wood, S. Anxiety now qualifies for medical marijuana in Pennsylvania. Available at: https://www.inquirer.com/business/weed/anxiety-marijuana-tourette-syndrome-pennsylvania-qualifying-conditions-20190711.html. Accessed July 22, 2019.
Meek, W. The Use of Marijuana for Anxiety. Available at: https://www.verywellmind.com/marijuana-and-anxiety-1393132. Accessed July 22, 2019.
How to get a legal medical marijuana card or authorization Part 4, State-By-State MMJ Qualifying Conditions. Available at: https://www.leafly.com/news/health/qualifying-conditions-for-medical-marijuana-by-state. Accessed July 22, 2019.
Sostek, A. Medical marijuana for anxiety? Some doctors question state's decision. Available at https://www.post-gazette.com/news/health/2019/07/17/anxiety-medical-marijuana-Pennsylvania-tourette-syndrome-qualifying-condition/stories/201907170015. Accessed July 22, 2019.