Letter to the editor: Anxiety and medical marijuana

Regarding the article “How anxiety came to dominate the big business of medical marijuana cards in Pa.” (Feb. 2, TribLIVE): I greatly appreciate the Trib’s recognition and concern regarding this issue. There are many conditions that allow one to qualify for a medical marijuana card in Pennsylvania, but only a limited few that actually have any sort of scientific backing.

The inclusion of “anxiety” as a qualifying condition is problematic. Anxiety is a normal part of the human experience and is necessary to learning and survival. All of us experience anxiety, so technically, we could all qualify. Anxiety disorders are often a source of significant distress and impairment in functioning. However, there is no scientific evidence that marijuana actually helps with anxiety. In fact, there is some evidence that THC in marijuana can worsen anxiety in those with an anxiety disorder.

The decision to make anxiety a qualifying condition for medical marijuana has indeed served as a gateway to greater access to marijuana. I have no doubt that the 2019 Pennsylvania Department of Health decision to include anxiety as a qualifying condition ignored the available scientific evidence (and probably reflected a desire to legalize marijuana) to the detriment of many.

It is imperative for our politicians and the Department of Health to deal with the issue of marijuana in an honest and forthcoming manner, with appropriate consideration of scientific evidence. It is also crucial that we all understand that some anxiety is normal and that effective treatments are available for those with anxiety disorders.

Dr. Gary Swanson


The writer is a psychiatrist.

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