What is medical marijuana?
Medical marijuana comes from the marijuana plant. Chemicals in marijuana called cannabinoids can help treat symptoms of some medical conditions, while other chemicals can cause harm.
- CBD is the chemical in marijuana that has been studied the most as being helpful for medical problems.
- THC is the chemical in marijuana that gets people high or “stoned.” THC is not considered to be helpful for most medical problems. THC can cause paranoia, anxiety, depression, and temporary loss of memory if used frequently.
The medical marijuana available in Pennsylvania dispensaries has no rules on content and is often high in THC and not CBD (of note, CBD products advertised in some storefronts and offices are often hemp-based and contain less than 0.03% THC).
Marijuana remains illegal at the federal level. It is classified as a Schedule I controlled substance under the Controlled Substances Act, which means it has been found to have no legal medical use and a high risk for abuse.
What medical conditions are approved for medical marijuana use in Pennsylvania?
The list of approved conditions is on the PA Department of Health website.
It is important to note that medical marijuana is NOT considered a first line of treatment for any medical condition.
What is the evidence behind the use of medical marijuana?
Most studies have been done on medical marijuana with high CBD to THC ratios (for example, 20 parts CBD to 1 part THC). However, Pennsylvania does not have any ratio requirements, so these studies may not necessarily align with products available in Pennsylvania dispensaries that are usually high in THC.
Some evidence shows that:
- Medical marijuana can help improve pain among adults with chronic pain, neuropathic pain, and spasticity due to multiple sclerosis.
- Medical marijuana can help with nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy.
- Smoking marijuana does not increase the risk for certain cancers (for example, lung, head, and neck) in adults.
What are the concerns of using marijuana?
- There is evidence of an increased risk among frequent marijuana users of developing schizophrenia and other psychotic illness.
- Evidence of a link between prenatal marijuana exposure and lower birth weight.
- Increased risk of being involved in a motor vehicle crash if marijuana is used before driving.
- Increased risk of unintentional marijuana overdose injuries among children in states where its use is legal.
- Impaired ability to learn, and difficulty with memory and attention.
- For teenagers, there is concern that marijuana use affects schoolwork and may lead to difficulties with employment and social relationships.
- Use can lead to gum disease, stomach issues, and nervous system issues.
What if you have struggled or continue to struggle with a substance use disorder?
- Medical marijuana is not recommended if you have a substance use disorder or if you have had issues with drugs or alcohol before. There is a chance that using medical marijuana could lead to dependence and addiction.
- Early and high use of marijuana can increase the risk of developing problem use.
- Marijuana use is likely to increase the risk for developing another substance use disorder.
- Medical marijuana is not a form of medication-assisted treatment for opioid use disorder or other substance use disorders. There is no current evidence that it would be clinically effective, and it may actually cause harm due to the above reasons.
How can you get medical marijuana?
Because medical marijuana is federally illegal, a physician cannot prescribe medical marijuana. But a physician can recommend or certify an individual to get medical marijuana from a licensed dispensary. A physician must complete a 4-hour training and be approved by the Pennsylvania Department of Health to participate. Registered physicians are currently listed on the Pennsylvania Department of Health website.
If your doctor chooses this option, it is strongly recommended that they coordinate care and collaborate with all other providers involved in your medical care.
Is medical marijuana covered by insurance?
At this time, no insurances in Pennsylvania, commercial or state funded, allow payment for medical marijuana. This is due to limited research and the availability of other first line, evidence-based treatments.
Find more information about the PA Department of Health Medical Marijuana Program.