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Ohio May Allow Medical Marijuana To Treat Anxiety, Autism

Joan Caleodis, of Martin's Ferry, Ohio, celebrates after making one of the first patient purchases of Ohio's Medical Marijuana program at Cresco Labs CY+ dispensary in Wintersville, Ohio, Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2019.
Gene J. Puskar
Joan Caleodis, of Martin's Ferry, Ohio, celebrates after making one of the first patient purchases of Ohio's Medical Marijuana program at Cresco Labs CY+ dispensary in Wintersville, Ohio, Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2019.

A panel of physicians recommended that the State Medical Board of Ohio vote next month to include anxiety and autism spectrum disorder as qualifying conditions for medical marijuana use.

The committee's recommendation Wednesday comes after the Medical Board sought online petitions from the public requesting qualifying conditions to add to the current list of 21 conditions. The board will also vote June 12 whether to add opioid use disorder, depression and insomnia, which the four-member panel voted against recommending after consulting with medical experts.

Many of the 110 petitions the Medical Board received asked that cannabis use be allowed for anxiety.

Caylin Chapman, a 27-year-old mother of two from Elyria, was one of those who submitted a petition regarding anxiety. She was pleasantly surprised to learn about the committee's vote.

"I've had my fingers crossed for quite some time," Chapman said Thursday.

She said that since childhood, she has struggled with anxiety, depression and agoraphobia, which leads people to avoid open or public places fearing they might become panic-stricken. She said the multiple anti-anxiety medications she has been prescribed over the years were either ineffective or made her feel like a zombie.

Chapman said that on the one occasion she tried CBD, a cannabis product containing low amounts of marijuana's psychoactive chemical THC, it helped ease many of her anxieties.

"I was able to go to the grocery store and not feel uncomfortable," Chapman said. "It relaxed me. My mind didn't run as much."

With the long-delayed opening of dispensaries in January, Ohio has made cannabis available for purchase to people who have received physician recommendations — not prescriptions — for 21 qualifying medical conditions, including cancer, epilepsy, Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Dr. Solomon Zaraa, a member of a northeast Ohio psychiatric practice called Compassionate Cleveland, was one of the physicians asked by the Medical Board panel to provide an expert opinion on cannabis use for anxiety, autism and depression. Zaraa said his practice has made around 1,000 medical marijuana recommendations thus far.

"What we find with people with anxiety, a lot of the symptoms they're describing are helped with cannabis, and with the right dose," Zaraa said. "We want enough of a dose to be effective, but we don't want them to be impaired. We want them to be functioning."

Thomas Rosenberger, associate director of the industry trade group Ohio Medical Cannabis Cultivators Association, said Thursday that he was pleased with the panel's recommendations, but thinks it should have included opioid use disorder as well.

"Ohio is the center of the opioid crisis," Rosenberger said. "It would be beneficial to Ohio and Ohio physicians to have that tool available."

Dr. Ted Parran, co-associate director of Addiction Medicine at Cleveland's St. Vincent Charity Medical Center, said there is no data proving that marijuana is a suitable drug to treat opioid addiction.

"It doesn't make a lot of sense to recommend an addictive drug for the treatment of addiction," Parran said.

As for the handful of states that have included opioid use disorder as a qualifying condition, Parran said, "That's goofy. I'm sure it's well-meaning, but clearly misguided."

Jo Ingles is a professional journalist who covers politics and Ohio government for the Ohio Public Radio and Television for the Ohio Public Radio and Television Statehouse News Bureau. She reports on issues of importance to Ohioans including education, legislation, politics, and life and death issues such as capital punishment.