House Bill Would Add Lyme Disease To Medical Conditions For Therapeutic Cannabis

Jan 28, 2019

Democratic Rep. Wendy Thomas from Merrimack

The New Hampshire House is considering legislation that would extend the list of qualifying conditions for the state’s therapeutic cannabis program.

If passed, House Bill 461 would include Lyme disease, insomnia and anxiety as allowable conditions for medical marijuana.

Morning Edition Host Rick Ganley spoke with the sponsor of the bill, Democratic Rep. Wendy Thomas from Merrimack, about her proposal.

(Editor's note: this trasnscript has been edited lightly for clarity.)

Some might say insomnia and anxiety are subjective terms. How does this legislation define those qualifications?

That's an interesting question, and it is subjective because so many things can create those conditions. There are two places in the therapeutic cannabis program where they define qualifications. One is you have to have a medical diagnosis as well as a symptom. And so I'm putting all three of these conditions under standalone conditions, and the reason for that is Lyme disease has millions of symptoms. All six of my kids and I have Lyme disease and we all present differently. So there's no one defining characteristic for that.

Insomnia, obviously the symptom is lack of sleep, but it can be due to hormones. It could be due to auto immune disease. It could be due to stress. And the last one is generalized anxiety, which is different from PTSD, which is one of the qualifying standalone conditions. Generalized anxiety, I defined it as moderate to severe. And what I'm thinking about is people who have social anxiety that can't leave their house, or even students who are at college that have a severe anxiety that causes them to not go to class, which would not allow them to go and take tests or things like that.

So what kind of referral then would be needed specifically for these conditions?

Oh it's the same thing as any other referral. You go to your primary physician --

Your general practitioner could say this is needed? 

"I've had several lawmakers come up to me privately and say, hey can I talk to you about that therapeutic cannabis program? Because they're older and they have the ideas that cannabis is bad for you. But there are also older and have body pains and aches that come with aging."

Correct.

So if their doctor recommended it, they wouldn't need to present a specific list of symptoms as long as the doctor said they have this condition in other words?

Well, right now with the therapeutic cannabis program you have to be a patient of your doctor for at least three months. So you have to have a documented condition. You can't show up at a walk in clinic and say you know I'm not a really hard time sleeping and then expect to be qualified. So there are some conditions to this.

There are very few states that actually include anxiety as a qualifying condition. There aren't any states so far that include Lyme disease, to my knowledge, and insomnia. Why do you believe that New Hampshire could be one of the leading states on those qualifiers?

So one of the reasons that I'm so big on the therapeutic cannabis program is that I work at a therapeutic cannabis dispensary in Merrimack. The thing is, some of the qualifiers right now for the therapeutic cannabis program are chronic pain. That's a big flag for Lyme disease, but not everybody presents that way. Sometimes you have neurological issues where you've got the shooting pain [and] you've got numbness. That's not one of the qualifying conditions. Sometimes you have, and this is one of the things that I and a few of my kids have, you have muscle fascinations, which is like your muscles sort of dance under your skin. That's not a qualifying condition. But I'm also a therapeutic cannabis patient with Lyme disease, and my muscle vacillations disappeared once I started taking the cannabis.

Well, I was wondering about when you disclose that and you say you work at a dispensary and you're a patient, how that does affect your message when you're talking to other lawmakers.

I haven't heard any direct response. I did see a few eyes widen a little bit. But here's the more significant thing, I've had several lawmakers come up to me privately and say, hey can I talk to you about that therapeutic cannabis program? Because they're older and they have the ideas that cannabis is bad for you. But there are also older and have body pains and aches that come with aging. And they're hearing from somebody like me who it was reliable, and I show up and I do my work, and I do other jobs. Not only does it help, but it's the reason that I'm here. It's the reason I'm walking.

Given that you are in favor of full legalization at some point. Why the interim step on getting medical marijuana having more qualifiers? Why not put your energies into getting marijuana legalized across the board?

Because there's a difference between recreational and therapeutic [cannabis]. Therapeutic is measured. It's in doses. In a recreational shop you would show up and you could say I just want an ounce of like let's say Gorilla Glue, which is a very strong indica plant that puts you to sleep, and it literally glues you to the couch.

So you're worried about people self-medicating and harm from that?

I'm worried about people using the product without knowing how to use it, and that's my concern. So I think there will always be a need for the therapeutic side. And from what I understand, if you have a therapeutic card, don't get rid of it. Because I think if we follow what some of the other states have done, the therapeutic patients will not be paying the same price that the recreational people will be paying.

The special considerations that a medical marijuana program that you don't have in a recreational program?

That's right, yeah.