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Sick? Ask Pa. to add your illness to the medical marijuana qualifying conditions

Pa.medical marijuana program makes it possible to petition Department of Health to add qualifying ailments.

A marijuana plant in San Luis Obispo, Calif.
A marijuana plant in San Luis Obispo, Calif.Read moreRichard Vogel / AP

In Pennsylvania, the Department of Health already recognizes 21 serious medical conditions for which cannabis is believed to provide some relief.

Soon, that number may grow.

The state’s Medical Marijuana Advisory Board this week approved a process that will allow it to add new ailments.

Patients and doctors can now ask the state to add more qualifying conditions by filling out a form on the Department of Health website.

“This will give people a say on how things are done,” said Luke Shultz, a patient advocate who serves on the state’s advisory board. “Hopefully, this broadens the number of conditions that will qualify.”

The form asks petitioners to include documentation that supports the effectiveness of medical marijuana as a form of treatment or to include information that may offer an indication that cannabis use outweighs any potential health risks.

“I know a lot of the patients are really concerned about having anxiety, depression, and ADHD added,” said Shultz. “I’ve had discussions with my own pain management doctor about it. He feels that cannabis has been so successful for so many years because it helps with anxiety which causes stress, which amplifies other health problems. If [anxiety] is approved, I’d be very happy. But the scientific studies just aren’t there to give it full support.”

Once submitted, the applications will be reviewed by a subcommittee and presented to the entire board at the next Medical Marijuana Advisory Board meeting, according to the state website. The board will consider the proposal and either approve or reject it. The Secretary of Health will have the last word on each condition.

If rejected, the requester can ask for the proposal to be reconsidered by the board. A second denial would table the request for a year or until new scientific evidence comes to light.

“As medical literature surrounding the uses of medical marijuana expands, we want to ensure our list of qualifying conditions meets the needs of Pennsylvanians,” said Secretary of Health Rachel Levine in a statement.

Ailments approved for medical marijuana in Pennsylvania include chronic pain, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, autism, cancer, Crohn’s disease, damage to nervous tissue of the central nervous system, spastic movement disorders, epilepsy, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, Huntington’s disease, inflammatory bowel disease, intractable seizures, multiple sclerosis, neurodegenerative diseases, neuropathies, opioid-use disorder, Parkinson’s disease, post-traumatic stress disorder, sickle cell anemia, and terminal illness.

“Studies aren’t the only things that we’ll look at,” Shultz said. "We’ll also consider conditions that are on lists in other medical marijuana states, and hopefully we’ll take suggestions from clinicians that have been working in this realm in other states. "

According to the Department of Health, more than 95,000 Pennsylvanians have registered to participate in the medical marijuana program. More than 64,000 of those state residents have received state identification cards that allow them to buy marijuana at a dispensary. About 950 physicians have been approved to write recommendations for the drug.