STATE COLLEGE – The interior of the pharmacy is like the lobby of a hotel. Plush armchairs, a Keurig coffee maker, and an electric glass fireplace adorn the front room. The television shows colloquial names of various varieties such as Llera – Skywalker Sauce with 75 percent THC.
On a typical weekday, there is a steady stream of customers coming to Nature’s Medicines marijuana dispensary. Customers, some from Harrisburg, Pittsburgh and as far as the New Jersey border, are escorted by name to the back room and leave the country with their next doses of relief from severe and potentially debilitating conditions.
Nature’s Medicines opened in June 2018. It is one of 45 pharmacies that have started selling medical marijuana in the state since legalization in April 2016 and the start of the medical marijuana program in February 2018, from the State of Marijuana Guide, 21 Health Conditions Can Be Treated With Medical Marijuana Cancer remission therapy to autism.
Individuals with these serious medical conditions must register for the program and obtain certification for the use of medical marijuana from a licensed physician. Patients then register for an ID card to buy marijuana products from pharmacies. The cost of the card is $ 50.
While medical marijuana has become more accessible to people with severe ailments, cannabidiol, a less psychoactive element in the cannabis plants, has become a popular drug for people with anxiety or the occasional sore knees, according to recent reports in the Atlantic, Chicago, according to Sun-Times and other news outlets.
Cannabidiol (CBD) is a primary cannabinoid in cannabis that, unlike its psychoactive counterpart tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), is said to have health benefits without the “high”. It is completely legal in Pennsylvania and can be used without medical approval.
Unlike medical marijuana, cannabidiol products can be purchased in retail stores and online. It is sold in a variety of forms – gums, creams, and e-liquids for vaporizer pens, and most popularly as oils. However, the health claims are not fully supported by human clinical trials.
Research around CBD has been limited to animals. A 2016 study on rats concluded that transdermal topical application of CBD had the potential to reduce pain-related behaviors and inflammation in arthritis.
In 2015, the Drug Enforcement Administration eased regulation of CBD and allowed the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to initiate more in-depth clinical trials of the Schedule I controlled substance.
In a recent statement published for the New York Times, psychiatrist Richard Friedman wrote, “CBD’s explosive popularity is way ahead of any evidence to show its effectiveness.” Friedman questioned the component’s effectiveness in treating serious medical conditions such as Parkinson’s disease.
Last June, the FDA approved Epidiolex, the first oral cannabidiol solution, for two serious epileptic diseases.
In a statement on the FDA website, Scott Gottlieb, the FDA commissioner, said the department is aware of the increasing popularity of cannabis and cannabis-derived components, including cannabidiol.
“We treat products containing cannabis or cannabis-derived compounds like any other FDA-regulated product. This means that they are subject to the same authorities and requirements as FDA-regulated products that contain other substances,” he said.
The lack of CBD research casts doubt on pharmaceutical claims from some retailers who may not make or sell pure products. The FDA monitors and notifies online retailers who make fraudulent claims for their products.
In 2017, four buying websites received warning letters. That’s Natural !, a Colorado-based online company, had a testimonial posted on its website that said, “Scientific research by doctors has shown that it actually kills cancer cells …”
Deputy Professor Alan Budney of the Geisel School of Medicine in Dartmouth said he was skeptical of medical marijuana and CBD products and concerned that cannabis regulation was too loose.
“I think medical marijuana was a big mistake because it happens in public that it is good for everything. One problematic question is when do you use the term medical marijuana, ”he said over the phone.
The cannabis plant can reproduce hundreds of strains. According to leafly.com, a website that provides cannabis resources and information for marijuana users and recreational marijuana users, the ratios of CBD to THC vary by type and strain and lead to different effects such as drowsiness or euphoria.
Budney said the data on the chemical components in marijuana are problematic because of this variability. As a result, users are not always well informed about the effectiveness of the purchase.
“I don’t think they should allow them to make medical claims on them,” Budney said. “Instead of getting help with other things, they are [people] I will buy products that don’t work. “
Unlike CBD purchase websites, medical marijuana products that come from certified pharmacies are tested.
Nature’s Medicines manager Nia Rodriguez said the pharmacy sources its products from seven different companies including Prime Wellness. All must do laboratory tests to ensure the purity and percent accuracy of cannabinoids.
“All of our companies are growing [cannabis] in the state and obey Pennsylvania regulations. When we receive it, we don’t even have a chance to see the product. Everything comes pre-purchased and pre-packed, ”she said.
The pharmacy sells plasters, creams, groceries, vaporizer cartridges, capsules, concentrates and the flower itself, among other things. Prices range from USD 12 for one gram of Terrapin Hash Haze flower to USD 192 for 20 extra strong capsules. Patients can make their own decisions and seek advice from the pharmacy staff on what is best for them.
“We talk to every single person, at least once, but never just once,” said Rodriguez. “Everyone has to see the pharmacist who sits down next to him. We explain every drug and what they need to every patient. The pharmacist is a drug counselor who matches a patient’s complaints to strains that are best for the patient. He gives them advice but does not prescribe it. “
Rodriguez, who uses medical marijuana to treat back pain from two scoliosis corrective surgeries and arthritis in her spine, said CBD was not working on her. She said customers are taking the same risk with the quality of CBD products as they do with anything over the counter.
“Everyone is different. Some people swear by it and some don’t. Medical marijuana for me is the only reason I can work in the winter,” she said. “CBD is essentially not euphoric. It balances you and brings the high down . “
Employee Natalie Healy looks after her 13-year-old son Christopher, who suffers from severe autism and is non-verbal. When he hit puberty, Healy said he started injuring himself and his aggression increased.
“For a while, I felt like the only one dealing with such a difficult child,” she said.
Ever since her son started medical marijuana treatment, Healy has noticed that exposure to high levels of CBD made her son’s aggression worse.
“A higher dose of THC seemed to work better. We’re trying to strike the right balance, but I’ve seen improvement. His teachers at school say he’s more academically focused, ”she said.
According to Rodriguez, customers are paying out of pocket to cover medical marijuana. It is currently not covered by health insurance.
“Nobody is going to spend $ 250 on something that doesn’t work,” Rodriguez said.
Dejanae Gibson is a Penn State Junior specializing in print and digital journalism.