Iowans with PTSD could qualify for medical cannabis, following state board recommendation

Bethan Rose Jenkins, Cannabis News Writer/Editorial

On Friday, November 1, a state board voted in favor of expanding Iowa’s medical cannabis program to patients who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The vote now heads to the Iowa Board of Medicine for final review.

Four members of the board approved the vote, even after throwing caution to the fact that there is a lack of evidence backing the benefits of using cannabis for PTSD; each board member was a medical professional.

The expanded legislation allowing Iowans to treat PTSD with medical cannabis was also supported by various members of the public. Testimony was provided by these people, although one opposed against the idea, alerting the board that the plant could be hazardous for PTSD patients, due to lack of research and clinical trials.

Board member thinks scientific proof of cannabis for PTSD is a long way off

According to board member Dr. Lonny Miller, sufficient evidence regarding the cannabis plant’s medical uses and therapeutic benefits are not likely to surface for several years.

“And again there are risks to cannabis, and the reports discuss that,” Miller said. “Now, the risks of untreated PTSD are numerous as well. At the very least, they live a miserable existence. At the very worst, they die.”

The doctor claims that his friend – a PTSD sufferer – committed suicide as a result of the debilitating disease. Dr. Miller is not the only one who is sceptical about allowing PTSD as a qualifying condition for medical cannabis in Iowa; two board members also voted in opposition of the rule.

“I would just like to point out that there are two randomized controlled studies that are underway and until those studies come out, the VA and the WHO have both advised against the use of cannabis for PTSD,” announced board member Dr. Jacqueline Stoken.

Iowa Board of Medicine engages in debate over THC limits

Also discussed by members of the board was the topic of THC content. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the chemical that is renowned for making consumers feel ‘stoned’ or ‘high’. 

Since THC may impair an individual’s ability to drive and perform work-related tasks – particularly so in hazardous settings that require the operation of large machinery – a three percent limit currently exists on the THC content of medical cannabis products in Iowa.

Nonetheless, certain board members feel that the three percent limit is too low. A recommendation was put forward to increase the maximum allowed amount to be obtained by patients to 4.5 grams every 90 days. Exceptions would be allowed for patients who have been diagnosed with a terminal illness.

“THC has the potential for causing harm, and that’s where the danger begins to come in,” said board member and pharmacist, Stephen Richards. “So alright, if we’re going to do it, let’s be careful. And let’s keep this number at what appears to be a probably reasonable level.”

During spring, a bipartisan bill was approved by the legislature to permit 25 grams of THC over a 90-day period, so long as patients attend regular doctor check-ups. However, Governor Kim Reynolds vetoed the bill, claiming that the limit was far beyond what is considered acceptable. 

The governor’s reason for vetoing the Bill was that insufficient evidence exists to support permitting such a large amount of THC for medical cannabis patients in Iowa. 

“I don’t support that,” said Sen. Claire Celsi, D-Des Moines In response to the bill’s dismissal. “I think it’s too low, as proven by our pharmacist members both in the House and Senate. Some people need much more than that.”

Qualifying conditions for medical cannabis in Iowa were also expanded to include intellectual disabilities associated with aggression or self-injury as a qualifying condition. Alzheimer’s disease and opioid use disorder were rejected by the board.

Now, patients in Iowa can qualify for medical cannabis if they are diagnosed with one or more of around a dozen qualifying conditions.