Is Anxiety the Next Big Thing in Medical Cannabis


Chronic pain continues to be the most frequently cited complaint among patients seeking to use medical cannabis. It is pretty consistent across the states but with one glaring exception: Pennsylvania. According to recent data, anxiety trumps chronic pain in the Keystone State. This begs the question of whether anxiety is the next big thing in medical cannabis.


Anxiety took center stage in Pennsylvania a few years ago when then-governor Tom Wolf worked with key players in his administration and the cannabis industry to completely transform the state’s medical cannabis laws. The biggest change they brought to bear was officially recognizing anxiety as a qualifying condition. Only a small minority of states join Pennsylvania in this regard.

Cannabis for Chronic Pain

Utah is among the larger number of states that do not recognize anxiety as a qualifying condition. The Beehive State does recognize chronic pain and certain types of acute pain as qualifying conditions, according to the operators of Park City’s Deseret Wellness medical cannabis pharmacy and cannabis delivery.

Deseret Wellness confirms that chronic pain is the number one qualifying condition among patients in the state. But what if Utah lawmakers decided to add anxiety to the qualifying conditions list? Would anxiety overtake chronic pain as the number one complaint? It is entirely possible.

The Numbers in Pennsylvania

An independent newsroom that bills itself as Spotlight PA got their hands on state medical cannabis records and set about analyzing the effects of the legal overhaul that occurred under Gov. Wolf. Their analysis including looking at more than one million medical cannabis certification records.

The data shows that in 2021, the most recent year for which records are available, Pennsylvania doctors approved 385,000 medical cannabis certificates based on a single complaint: anxiety. Spotlight PA says that amounts to 60% of all medical cannabis users in Pennsylvania citing anxiety as their qualifying condition.

Spotlight PA also notes that 40% of the studied certificates list anxiety as the only qualifying condition. These patients are not suffering from anxiety and some other condition that qualifies them. It is anxiety alone.

Anyone Can Get a Card

Critics of Pennsylvania’s medical cannabis overhaul have long said that making anxiety a qualifying condition effectively means that anyone can get a card in the Keystone State. Why? Because there is no scientific way to measure anxiety. Anyone can report it without proving it is a genuine problem. Doctors have no choice but to take a patient’s word for it.

Similar criticisms exist in the chronic pain arena. There is no scientific way to measure the existence of pain or its severity. The only way doctors can evaluate pain is to ask patients to rate it on a generally accepted numerical scale. But anyone can lie about chronic pain.

On the other hand, many easily verifiable conditions cause chronic pain. Take osteoarthritis. The condition is easily diagnosed and documented by tests. An osteoarthritis patient reporting chronic pain has an actual diagnosis backing them up. Anxiety disorders do not have that kind of evidentiary support.

The Road to Decriminalization

Anxiety overtaking chronic pain as a qualifying condition in Pennsylvania is just one more factor contributing to eventual decriminalization. And make no mistake about it, the road to decriminalization is a well-trodden one. The country will eventually get there at some point. It is only a matter of time.

Anxiety and chronic pain open the door to uninhibited cannabis use in states where medical cannabis is legal but recreational marijuana is not. But in the end, decriminalization will make all this moot. So does it really matter?

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