Ohio Experts Withdraw Recommendation to Approve Cannabis for Autism, Anxiety

The full board will have a vote in September.
Ohio Experts Withdraw Recommendation to Approve Cannabis for Autism, Anxiety
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A committee of experts advising regulators in Ohio has withdrawn its recommendation to approve adding autism and anxiety as qualifying conditions for the state’s medical marijuana program. The action by the Ohio Medical Marijuana Control Program’s expert review panel on Wednesday follows a recommendation to approve the two conditions for inclusion in the program the committee issued in May.

After hearing additional testimony from four physicians and reviewing several letters opposed to the plan on Wednesday, the committee voted to reverse the earlier decision.

Dr. Michael Schottenstein, the president of the Ohio State Medical Board, is a psychiatrist practicing in the Columbus area. He is also a member of the review committee and opposed adding autism and anxiety to the state’s list of qualifying conditions.

“Approval feels premature at this time,” Schottenstein said after the committee voted to reverse course. “For the medical board, there should be consensus to do so among respected medical authorities.”

Committee member Robert Giacalone was also opposed to approving the recommendation.

“There is, at best, anecdotal evidence on the other side,” he said.

“The comfort’s just not there,” Giacalone added. “I’m hearing solid science on one side and, at best, anecdotal science on the other.”

Doctors Disagree on Proposal

Anup Patel, the section chief of neurology at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, said that there is anecdotal evidence that suggests cannabis may be an effective treatment for autism and anxiety. But with no clinical trials showing that medical marijuana was safe and effective, Patel advised against adding the conditions to Ohio’s program.

“The reality is we should all still be held to the same standard of the scientific method,” he said.

Three other physicians also testified against adding anxiety and autism as qualifying conditions. Additionally, the board had received letters against the proposal from Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, the Ohio Children’s Hospital Association, the Ohio Psychiatric Physicians Association, and the Ohio departments of Health and Mental Health and Addiction Services.

Gary Wenk, a professor of psychology at Ohio State University who studies how drugs affect the brain, was one of two physicians who supported adding anxiety and autism as qualifying conditions for the state’s medical marijuana program He said that some research on animals suggests that cannabis can aid neural development and reduce incidents of self-harm in autistic children.

“I came down on the side of saying this is useful,” Wenk said.

Mom Left in Tears by Decision

Tiffany Carwile of Bryan, Ohio submitted the petition to add autism as a qualifying condition because she believes that medical marijuana could help her 5-year-old son. She was in tears on Wednesday after hearing of the committee’s decision to rescind the recommendation for approval.

“The medications our kids have access to now are absolutely horrible in comparison to cannabis,” Carwile said. “I am so heartbroken for Ohio. I am truly shaken to the core.”

The full state medical board is expected to vote on adding anxiety and autism to Ohio’s list of qualifying conditions at its next meeting on September 11. The board voted against adding depression, opioid abuse disorder, and insomnia in May while delaying the decision on anxiety and autism so new board members could be brought up to speed on the issues.

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