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As Pennsylvania moves toward legalizing adult-use cannabis, some lawmakers remain focused on improving the state's medical cannabis program

Pennsylvania created a medical marijuana program in 2016.

HARRISBURG, Pa. — Medical researchers are increasingly looking into cannabis as a treatment option for some mental health conditions. The research comes as attitudes toward cannabis among doctors, patients and lawmakers are evolving.

Pennsylvania created a medical marijuana program in 2016.

State Sen. Mike Regan (R-York/Cumberland) came from a law enforcement background and initially saw cannabis as a gateway drug. He voted for the measure, though, citing in part the experiences he had heard from constituents who were veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Department of Veterans Affairs found 15.7 percent of those veterans screened positive for PTSD.

“Parents and spouses who were advocating for marijuana so it could relieve their stress and pressure from PTSD,” Regan said.

Since the creation of the medical marijuana program, more than 300,000 Pennsylvanians have registered for a medical marijuana card.

Thanks to the program, doctors said more patients were considering cannabis as a valid treatment option.

“People who have very, very challenging medical conditions, who have really tried a lot of therapy that has been ineffective in their time. They say, ‘I’ve got to try something else. I’ve heard cannabis can work. Can I give it a try?’” said Dr. Jarret Patton, a pediatrician who offered testimony at a March 18 Senate hearing on the medical marijuana program.

As chair of the Senate Law and Justice Committee, Regan has held several such hearings, which have also addressed the possibility of an adult-use cannabis program in Pennsylvania.

He said state oversight should help further medical research, touting a law that connects cannabis grower/processors with hospitals to do clinical research.

“One of the things they’re doing right now is trying to figure out how cannabis interacts with other psychotropic drugs or mental health medicines to see if it has a positive effect, negative effect, whatever it is,” said Regan. “But the research is happening.”

More cannabis-based treatment options could soon be available. Last year, for the first time, four companies were federally approved to study cannabis with a goal of eventually developing medicines to treat conditions like anxiety and PTSD.

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