FL’s medical marijuana program is on the rise; PTSD is most common condition for medicinal use

Medical marijuana dispensary. Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images.

People using marijuana to treat certain medical conditions has jumped in Florida, according to a new report by the Florida Department of Health.

The state’s data show a significant increase in medical marijuana patients who have completed all requirements to receive treatment.

As of Feb. 12, there are 485,693 qualified patients with an active ID card. That compares to 314,234 qualified patients as of Feb. 14, 2020. That information came from the state’s Office of Medical Marijuana Use.

A health-related committee meeting in the state House on Tuesday discussed the medical marijuana program, which came out of a Constitutional amendment by Florida voters in 2016.

However, the numbers appears to have fallen for qualified physicians in the program, according to state figures. For instance, on Feb. 12 of this year, the state office showed 2,644 qualified physicians. A year earlier, the figure was 2,607.

A physician must have an active, unrestricted license as a physician or osteopathic and complete a 2-hour course and exam before being qualified to order medical marijuana and low-THC cannabis for qualified patients, according to the Office of Medical Marijuana Use.

However, at the committee meeting, a power point presentation showed 2,708 physicians qualified to order medical marijuana in the state.

Qualifying medical conditions for medicinal marijuana include HIV/AIDS, epilepsy, glaucoma, cancer, Crohn’s disease, post-traumatic stress disorder and more, according to the state.

PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) is the number one qualifying medical condition for patients qualified for marijuana treatment, said Christopher Ferguson, director of the Office of Medical Marijuana Use. That number is in the power presentation. The latest figure on PTSD is 406,542, from Oct. 1, 2019 to Sept 30, 2020.

During the Professions and Public Health Subcommittee meeting, state lawmakers engaged with Ferguson and a professor from Harvard Medical School who warned of the negative effects of high-potency marijuana and youth cannabis use on the rise across the nation.

“From the perspective of many states that have medicalized marijuana, I think Florida has done a much better job in terms of trying to regulate this,” said Bertha Madras, professor of psychobiology at Harvard Medical School.

Madras also linked severe mental illnesses such as schizophrenia to using cannabis at a young age, though some state lawmakers on the panel questioned her assertions, citing other studies by scientists that challenged her data.

“I’m not sure if I should start running for the hills or running for a dispensary to relieve my anxiety around so much of what’s been presented,” said state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, a Democrat representing part of Orange County.

In the meeting, Madras expressed concerns about young people gaining access to medical marijuana through adults who use it, resulting in an increase in marijuana use among that group nationwide.

“The kids who are most vulnerable to using marijuana are kids whose parents are using,” she said.

“Studies have shown that a significant proportion of young people obtained marijuana through devious sources from medical marijuana…these are earlier studies that were done three to four years ago.”