Patients seek to expand use of medical pot

PTSD and depression may be added to list of conditions treatable by medical marijuana

Four new medical disorders may be added to the list of medical conditions treatable by medical marijuana under state law.

The Arizona Department of Health Services is considering adding post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, migraines and generalized anxiety disorder to the list of 13 medical conditions the use of medical marijuana is approved for.

The approved conditions include: cancer, glaucoma, HIV, AIDS, hepatitis C, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Crohn's disease, Alzheimer's, wasting syndrome, severe or chronic pain, nausea, seizures and muscle spasms.

The department received petitions from patients in January to add the four new conditions to the original list approved by voters in 2010. It will hold a public meeting on adding PTSD to the list from 1 to 2:30 p.m. and depression, migraines, and generalized anxiety disorder from 2:30 to 4 p.m. on May 25 at 250 N. 17th Ave., Phoenix.

The U.S. Department of Health Services defines PTSD as an anxiety disorder that occurs after a person has been subjected to seeing or living through a highly traumatic event, such as the traumatic death of a loved one or a physical assault. Military personnel who have served in combat situations often develop PTSD.

A person suffering from PTSD often feels stressed or frightened even when there is no need to be. The condition can happen to any one of any age after any traumatic event in their lives.

Symptoms of PTSD include: flashbacks, nightmares and frightening thoughts. A person suffering from PTSD may try to avoid certain places, objects or events. They may feel numb, guilty or depressed. They may have trouble remembering the event that may have caused the symptoms. They can be easily startled, edgy, have frequent outbursts of anger and may suffer from insomnia. According to the U.S. DHS, it is natural for a person to experience some of these symptoms immediately following a traumatic event. In order to be diagnosed with PTSD a person has to have at least six symptoms that last for more than a month and interfere with the person's regular life.

It is unknown why some people exposed to the same traumatic event develop PTSD, and others do not.

The disorder is usually treated with therapy and medications, but some patients do not respond to these types of therapy.

Several studies submitted to the Arizona DHS, state that the use of marijuana can help quiet the anxiety and stress these PTSD patients experience. It may also help reduce the number of nightmares and bad memories they experience as well as treat symptoms of depression.

Depression is another disorder the department will consider adding to the list of conditions treatable by medical marijuana under state law.

According to its website, AZDHS received copies of multiple studies showing that marijuana has a similar effect on the brain as anti-depressants. There are also some studies that show that the abuse of marijuana can cause depression.

Another petition the department will consider is allowing medical marijuana to be used to treat migraines.

The Mayo Clinic defines migraines as severe headaches that cause intense throbbing in one area and can cause nausea, vomiting and extreme sensitivity to light and sound. The headaches can last between four and 72 hours. It is unknown why some people suffer from migraines or what causes them. Some sufferers find that their migraines are triggered by certain foods, smells, bright lights, stress, changes in sleep patterns, changes in the weather or certain medications.

Migraines are usually treated with over-the-counter painkillers such as Tylenol or prescription drugs such as triptans, which deal specifically with migraine symptoms, anti-nausea medications, prescription painkillers, steroids, cardiovascular drugs, antidepressants, anti-seizure drugs and sometimes Botox injections.

The last condition the department will consider adding to the list during the public hearing in May is general anxiety disorder.

According to WebMD, patients suffering from the disorder "experience excessive, unrealistic worry and tension," even if there is nothing to provoke the anxiety. Patients can experience panic, fear, uncontrollable and obsessive thoughts, problems sleeping and more.

The condition is typically treated with antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications, which can have unpleasant side effects.

According to several studies submitted to the department, marijuana use can help relieve anxiety symptoms.

In order to add a new disorder to the list of conditions state law allows to be treated with medical marijuana, a person has to send in a petition to AZDHS.

According to AZDHS's website, the petition must include a cover letter with the following information: the person's name, address, phone number, email address and condition they want added to the list.

The petitioner must also include a description of symptoms of the disease, the treatment, how it negatively effects a person's life, how medical marijuana can help treat the disorder and copies of scientific articles published in peer-reviewed journals that support the use of marijuana to treat the disorder. The full scientific article must be submitted.

The department then has 30 days to notify the person submitting the petitions that they have received it. AZDHS then has 180 days to review the information with the help of the University of Arizona's colleges of Health and Medicine.

If it meets the requirements, a public hearing will be scheduled to discuss adding the condition to the list.

If the department determines that the petition doesn't meet the requirement, then it will notify the person who sent in the petition in writing as to why the request was denied.