Medical Cannabis in Pennsylvania

Medical Cannabis in Pennsylvania

Even though medical cannabis was officially legalized in Pennsylvania as of April 17, 2016, only select conditions are eligible for cannabis-derived treatments as per the state’s recommendations and rulings. Currently, according to the Pennsylvania Medical Marijuana Act—also known simply as Act 16 of 2016—there are 17 qualifying conditions that the Act deems to warrant cannabis-derived medicines, also referred to as “serious medical conditions” within the Act.  

The 17 Serious Medical Conditions

The following are the 17 serious medical conditions as are defined by the Act according to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s website:

  •      Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)
  •      Autism
  •      Cancer
  •      Crohn’s Disease
  •      Damage to the nervous tissue of the spinal cord with objective neurological indication of intractable spasticity
  •      Epilepsy
  •      Glaucoma
  •      HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) / AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome)
  •      Huntington’s Disease (HD)
  •      Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)
  •      Intractable Seizures
  •      Multiple Sclerosis (MS)
  •      Neuropathies
  •      Parkinson’s Disease (PD)
  •      Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  •      Severe chronic or intractable pain of neuropathic origin or severe chronic or intractable pain in which conventional therapeutic intervention and opiate therapy is contraindicated or ineffective
  •      Sickle Cell Anemia

In addition to these 17 ailments, the Act also defines being terminally ill as a serious medical condition. “Terminally ill” is specifically defined as, “A medical prognosis of life expectancy of approximately one year or less if the illness runs its normal course.”

Breaking Down Legalized Conditions

As far as state-by-state legislation on legalization goes, Pennsylvania lies somewhere safely in the middle in terms of number of conditions they’ve approved for treatment; the number of approved conditions vary anywhere between a few to forty+ across states. That being said, a lot of the conditions legalized in PA are quite common ones all over the country. For example, using cannabis-derived medicines to help treat cancer patients is legalized in almost every state, including D.C., where medical cannabis is legal. Other very common conditions include epilepsy and other seizure disorders, Crohn’s disease, ALS, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, and PTSD.

Where Pennsylvania is a tad different in its chosen conditions includes autism, for which only Delaware and Georgia have also legalized the use of medical cannabis, though Minnesota will be adding it to their list in 2018. Furthermore, Huntington’s disease, neuropathies, and sickle cell anemia are all also less commonly listed as being eligible for cannabis medicines among the states that have legalized.

Interestingly, just because other states don’t list these conditions specifically does not mean there aren’t other states where patients can seek treatment for these conditions. A few states have more general clauses regarding their medical cannabis programs allowing doctors to recommend cannabis-derived medicines for many illnesses, conditions, and diseases that greatly affect the patient’s life, possibly to the point of debilitation. For example, California states that they allow treatment with cannabis for “any other chronic or persistent medical symptom that substantially limits the ability of the person to conduct one or more major life activities (as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990) or, if not alleviated, may cause serious harm to the patient’s safety or physical or mental health.” Thus, when scanning the lists of conditions states have approved for treatment, these kinds of clauses are important to look out for as they allow physicians to use their discretion in prescribing and recommending cannabis medicines. This also allows patients with a wider range of conditions and needs to seek alternative treatment not otherwise available to them. D.C., Florida, and Massachusetts are examples of other states with more open-ended clauses regarding eligible conditions.

In any regard, it’s important to keep in mind that just because a condition that can be treated with cannabis isn’t currently legalized in PA (or whatever state you live in), that’s not to say that legislation won’t change. Many states are making numerous addendums to their lists long after they originally legalized medical cannabis, so make sure to stay up to date on PA’s medical cannabis laws on AGRiMED’s website.

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