South Jersey doctors and educators say they are seeing an overwhelming number of new patients enrolling in the state’s medical marijuana program under newly approved conditions.
New Jersey Department of Health officials announced 1,000 people statewide have enrolled in the program under five new medical conditions since Gov. Phil Murphy added them in the state’s program expansion in late March, bringing total participation to about 20,000 patients.
The Health Department announced in March reforms to the state’s medical marijuana program, which included adding anxiety, migraines, Tourette’s syndrome, chronic pain related to musculoskeletal disorders and chronic visceral pain to the list of accepted conditions.
“The phones are extremely busy,” said Dr. Andrew Medvedovsky, owner of New Jersey Alternative Medicine in Linwood. “People may get frustrated when they don’t get through quickly enough, but it’s a growing thing. It’s definitely an adjustment to accommodate all these people and take care of existing patients and provide all those services.”
Since the changes, Medvedovsky, who specializes in neurology and pain medicine, said he’s seen a significant increase in patients at his office locations in Linwood, Princeton, Moorestown, Turnersville and Oakhurst who seek medical marijuana for anxiety and chronic pain disorders.
Of the new 1,000 patients statewide, half have enrolled to treat chronic pain, 400 have been diagnosed with anxiety, 90 suffer from migraines and five have Tourette’s, according to state health officials.
“We’re adding 100 new patients every day,” Commissioner Dr. Shereef Elnahal said in a statement. “This demonstrates that there was pent-up demand. People with chronic pain now have the option of medicinal marijuana instead of opioids, and more than 100 strains are available.”
Supporters of the medical marijuana program championed the addition of the new medical conditions, but there is now concern over keeping up supply.
Medvedovsky said with such a surge in patients, state dispensaries, or Alternative Treatment Centers, must make sure they have enough medical marijuana for patients who need it for older approved conditions and new ones.
“The dispensaries are not just assembly lines,” he said. “There will be a delay to provide enough medicine, and hopefully cultivators are ready for that, because with a surge in volume, patients might not be able to get into a dispensary for three or four weeks. When you have a sick or terminally ill patient, that’s an issue, but it’s all part of the growing pains.”
Elnahal and state health officials stated earlier this year they, too, anticipated an increased demand at the dispensaries. Part of the program expansions and reforms is an option for the existing five operational dispensaries to apply to expand operations and create satellite locations.
The state Department of Health granted Compassionate Sciences dispensary in Bellmawr, Camden County, permission to expand its operations and has five pending requests from three Alternative Treatment Centers for satellite locations.
Bob Kane, medical marijuana program advocate and educator with Alternative Medicine, said patients who have been coming in for anxiety are hopeful medical marijuana may replace or decrease the dosages of some other medications like antidepressants and benzodiazepines, which can carry some serious side effects.
“Our work has doubled, but it’s good,” Kane said.