What is medical marijuana and is it the same thing as medical cannabis?
Marijuana is a drug from the hemp plant Cannabis sativa. Even though many people use the word “marijuana” when referencing cannabis, the term “marijuana” specifically references the dried flowers and leaves of the cannabis plant.
Medical marijuana, also known as medical cannabis, is used to treat a variety of symptoms including nausea, pain, muscle stiffness, muscle spasticity and loss of appetite. In some states, laws have been passed that allow doctors to certify individuals with certain serious medical conditions to obtain medical marijuana from a state-licensed dispensary. It may be dispensed to those who have conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis, seizures, neurological diseases and HIV/AIDS.
In the state of Pennsylvania, according to Act 16 of 2016—the Medical Marijuana Act, the term “medical marijuana” refers to marijuana obtained for certified medical use by a Pennsylvania resident with a serious medical condition and is limited by statute in Pennsylvania to use in the following forms:
- Topical forms including, gels, creams and ointments
- A form medically appropriate for administration by vaporization or nebulization, excluding dry leaf or plant form
What do experts say about marijuana for medical use?
Since the spring of 2016, when it was signed into law, the Pennsylvania Department of Health began the process of implementing the state’s Medical Marijuana Program. Medical marijuana has been legalized in Pennsylvania, as well as other states, but has a different set of regulations than other medications. For example, medical marijuana has not yet been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and it remains classified as a Schedule I controlled substance by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA).
Not all experts agree on promoting marijuana for medical use. Some experts do not recommend its use because it has not been approved by the FDA, it may impair cognitive skills (such as memory, judgment and coordination) and may increase the incidence of DUIs. However, many experts agree that marijuana offers relief when other medications don’t work or produce uncomfortable side effects. Its effectiveness in reducing painful and adverse side effects in cancer patients and those with multiple sclerosis has been shown to improve the quality of their lives.
What do I need to know if I am a patient at Penn Medicine and am in the medical marijuana program?
Federal law prohibits Penn Medicine from dispensing, administering or storing a patient's medical marijuana.
Penn Medicine also may not prescribe medical marijuana or have it available at our pharmacies. If you are registered with the Medical Marijuana Program and are a patient at Penn Medicine, you will have to obtain your medical marijuana from a state-licensed dispensary.
Can I bring medical marijuana to a Penn Medicine hospital?
Do not bring medical marijuana to a Penn Medicine facility.
Possession or use of marijuana in any form, including medical marijuana, is prohibited in all Penn Medicine facilities with limited exception. Certified patients who have a designated caregiver registered with the Pennsylvania Department of Health may be permitted to use medical marijuana during their inpatient admission if clinically appropriate and in compliance with hospital policies. Self administration is prohibited. Only a designated caregiver may be permitted to administer medical marijuana during inpatient admission.
Why was medical marijuana use approved in Pennsylvania?
Studies show that medical marijuana may offer relief to patients suffering from certain medical conditions or symptoms.
Who will be able to obtain medical marijuana?
Individuals who have been diagnosed with a serious medical condition and are residents of Pennsylvania are able to obtain medical marijuana. A designated caregiver who is registered with the state will also be allowed to obtain it on behalf of a patient.
You will need to go through an application process and have your medical marijuana card with you when obtaining marijuana from a licensed dispensary.
How can I get specific information about my condition, or determine if medical marijuana is appropriate for me?
If you are considering medical marijuana as a therapy, talk to your health care provider for more information on how it may help you.
What forms and dosage amounts of medical marijuana are allowed in Pennsylvania?
According to the Act, medical marijuana is available for use by pill, oil, topical creams and ointments, tincture liquid, and forms that are medically appropriate for administration by vaporization or nebulization. No smoke-able form (leaf) is allowed. The dosage will be determined by a pharmacist and patients may receive up to a 30-day supply at a time.
How much does medical marijuana cost and is it covered by insurance?
Medical marijuana is not covered by insurance. For specific cost information patients should contact their local, licensed dispensing facility. All patients who participate in the program are also responsible for obtaining a $50 medical marijuana ID card, to be renewed annually. Individuals may qualify for a discounted ID card if they can demonstrate financial hardship on their application.
Where are the Pennsylvania dispensing facilities?
A full list of dispensaries and their locations can be found on the Pennsylvania Medical Marijuana Program website.
Do I have to register for the program?
You must be registered at the Department of Health’s Patient and Caregiver Registry to participate in the Medical Marijuana Program. Register as a patient, or caregiver at www.medicalmarijuana.pa.gov
Can I travel with medical marijuana?
It is recommended that you do not travel with medical marijuana. Medical marijuana obtained in Pennsylvania is for use only in Pennsylvania. Traveling with marijuana across state lines violates federal law. Some states without medical marijuana laws (or different laws) can arrest patients under possession laws, even if the patient is registered in their home state.
For more information and resources, view the United Patients Group’s guide to traveling with medical marijuana
Will medical marijuana interfere with other medications?
Research on how marijuana interferes with other medications is limited. But, it is generally advised that you do not mix marijuana with the following:
- Any medications that are CNS depressants such as sedatives or tranquilizers
- Anticoagulants or anti-platelet drugs, herbs and supplements
- Protease inhibitors
- Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors
You should discuss potential side effects, risks and benefits with your provider.
You can read more about medical marijuana by visiting the Pennsylvania Medical Marijuana Program website