Cristy Harding spent years advocating for medical marijuana. Her son, Jason, now 18, has suffered from a seizure disorder since he was a young child. He also has autism. Both afflictions are among the conditions that can be treated with medical marijuana.
Harding, of Hughesville, formerly of Turbotville, lobbied state legislators, sent out mailings, went door to door to gather support for medical use.
The 52-year-old emergency department nurse still advocates for medical marijuana, but it doesn’t help her son. She said that despite trying several varieties, they weren’t as effective as she had hoped they would be.
“I have not pursued it because of the limited results we saw,” Harding said. “It helped a little, but not for what we wanted.”
Plus, the single mother said the cheapest amount cost $90 per month. That didn’t work very well, but increasing the amount would have meant paying $300 a month.
“We’re not in the program right now, which I know shocks a lot of people,” she said.
Cost a bigger factor
Eric Hauser, president and chief executive officer of Organic Remedies medical marijuana dispensary in Enola, near Harrisburg, said medical marijuana is ineffective for a small percentage of patients. He said the cost is more of a factor in keeping people from obtaining medical marijuana.
“Some people may need two, up to five doses,” said Hauser, who also is the dispensary’s pharmacist. “It just depends on the patient.”
He said the amount needed is unique to each patient.
Prices vary based on the dosage form, from $100 to $200 a month typically.
“The law allows us to sell a month’s supply and we can only accept cash, no credit cards or debit cards,” he said.
“If you took the whole population of our patient base, 95 percent are getting some relief,” he said. “For probably 30 percent, it’s life-changing. A lot of these people have tried all the conventional medications, surgeries and have not found relief. It’s amazing this drug can provide this.”
Hauser said the dispensary treats a lot of autistic patients.
“We’ve been doing this for a year. We’ve gotten pretty good at matching the particular strain with the condition the patient has,” he said.
He said the quicker the pharmacist can match up the strain with the patient, the less expensive it is and the quicker the patient finds relief.
Some side effects
Dr. Ahmad F. Wardeh of Coal Township, one of the state Department of Health medical marijuana-approved physicians, said he doesn’t have a way to follow up with patients of other doctors, but the majority of his own patients who have used medical marijuana have had good results. Some do not like the side effects, such as some anxiety, and discontinue use.
“Some of them had problems falling asleep,” Wardeh said. “A lot of patients had never tried marijuana before. Any pain medicine can do the same (cause side effects). The benefit, I think, is there. The fact it gets a lot of people off narcotics is a great thing.”
Difficult to get
Wardeh said because dispensaries are not local, it’s difficult for the people who need the medication to get there, especially if their condition makes travel difficult.
There is some good news for Valley patients on that front as two dispensaries were approved for Shamokin in December, Harvest of North Central PA LLC and Pharma Cann Penn LLC will operate at 520 N. Shamokkin St. and 235 W. Spruce St., respectively.
To get medical marijuana, patients get an order from a doctor who has been specially trained in medical marijuana and approved by the state Department of Health. The doctor validates that the patient has one of the conditions the department lists and sends that information to the state. The state sends the medical marijuana card to the patient. In the case of a minor patient, the state sends a caregiver card to the child’s parent, but only after a rigorous federal background check and fingerprinting.
The pharmacist meets with the patient or caregiver and matches them up with the strain, dosage and form of medical marijuana, which could be vaporized product, capsule, a tincture (liquid put under tongue), transdermal patches or creams called topicals, or oil, which can be vaporized, put under the tongue or in food.
Hauser said about 5,500 strains of medical marijuana have been catalogued.
“We’ve got a pretty good selection, around 200 strains, give or take,” he said.
Organic Remedies, approved in the first round of dispensary licensing, is coming up on its one year anniversary on Feb. 15, Hauser said.
“We’ve helped over 4,000 patient since then,” he said.
He thinks the number of growers, not dispensaries, determines the price of the products.
“There are only nine growers so far,” Hauser said. “They’ve issued 25 licenses. The regulations called for 25. Possibly as the population of patients increases, they may add more, but I don’t see that happening right away.”
Despite her son not finding relief with medical marijuana, Harding knows her efforts were not wasted because of the many people benefiting from medical marijuana.
“I still feel satisfied that I know of individual people it is helping,” she said.