If medical marijuana is legal in NC, this crucial group will be left out

If you live in Pennsylvania, you can use marijuana to treat anxiety disorders, autism and a variety of other ailments.

Alabama’s medical marijuana program covers depression and panic disorder.

Mississippi’s program covers Alzheimer’s and dementia.

All of these states, along with Florida, cover all diagnoses of post-traumatic stress disorder.

None of these conditions, except for PTSD in certain cases, are in the bill that could potentially bring medical marijuana to North Carolina.

The state Senate recently voted to push forward with the Compassionate Care Act. It’s a bill that would legalize the use of medical marijuana for 15 conditions, ranging from HIV/AIDs and Crohn’s disease to various versions of end-of-life care.

It’s a significant and welcome expansion from the version of the bill presented last legislative session that would have only approved medicinal use for people who had only a few months to live. Unfortunately, mental illnesses were almost entirely left off the list, despite these conditions being some of the most popular reasons to use marijuana as medicine.

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A study from the Journal of Internal Medicine found that of the 7% of Americans who use marijuana medicinally, nearly half were treating anxiety and/or insomnia. Then there was the 42%  who were using marijuana to treat chronic pain and 39% were treating symptoms of depression. While women were more likely to use marijuana for PTSD and anxiety, there weren’t notable discrepancies between races.

Other doctors aren’t sold on the benefits of marijuana for mental health patients. In 2019, the American Psychological Association released an official statement opposing marijuana and CBD, saying that there isn’t enough evidence to support their use to treat mental disorders — in fact, the organization warned that there is a “strong association of cannabis use with the onset of psychiatric disorders.”

Dawn Adams, a nurse practitioner and a delegate in Virginia’s General Assembly, says she would recommend North Carolina listen to doctors and practitioners instead of the dispensaries that would profit from sales. The best thing about Virginia’s medical marijuana law, Adams said, is the power it gives physicians and patients to decide what works best as treatment. Virginia’s law does not include a list of conditions that qualify for medicinal use. It simply asks that patients who want to use marijuana as medicine, for any reason, talk with their doctor. This, of course, includes mental health provisions.

She noted that the reason so few studies have been performed on the impact of marijuana on mental health is its prohibition at the federal level. This is what makes some doctors, like those at the American Psychological Association, hesitant to endorse marijuana use for mental health.

“What we do have are years of clinical expertise that comes from having a patient base over several years,” Adams said.

The North Carolina bill includes PTSD as a qualifying condition, but it’s the only mental health disorder included in the bill. It also stipulates that “evidence” of PTSD will be required. Adams says that this is an instance of legislators assuming they know better than doctors.

“A true clinical diagnosis of PTSD is not dependent on being in a war,” Adams says, “it can be because of many, many variables.”

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