York County's second medical marijuana dispensary opens next month

Yorkers with one of 21 approved conditions will now have another medical marijuana dispensary in the vicinity to help with treatment.

RISE York, located at 4395 W. Market St. in West Manchester Township, will become the second dispensary to open in the county after Knox Medical opened in Penn Township in June.

A brand of Chicago-based industry leader Green Thumb Industries, RISE has three other dispensaries in the state — in Carlisle, Steelton and Erie.

The former Yorktown Pools building will open to the public for tours Oct. 2, with supplies expected to arrive Oct. 5.

It's operated by Delaware County-based KW Ventures Holdings LLC, which conducts business as Firefly Dispensaries, in partnership with Green Thumb Industries.

More:York County's first medical marijuana dispensary sets opening date

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Health benefits: Jonathan Gusdorff, managing partner and director of medical education for GTI, spoke on the science and the benefits of medical marijuana at the township building Wednesday, Sept. 19.

In a presentation sanctioned by the state Department of Health, he explained there are two types of cannabis: indica and sativa.

Indica relaxes the body and works against conditions such as insomnia, chronic pain and end-stage arthritis. Sativa, on the other hand, creates uplifting effects, so it can be helpful against depression and fatigue.

The interior waiting room at RISE Carlisle, one of two medical marijuana dispensaries operated by Firefly Dispensaries, which plans to open another location in York County during summer 2018. (Photo courtesy of GTI)

The most common components of each type are THC and CBD, the main difference being CBD does not have psychoactive properties, so patients will not get that "high" commonly associated with the drug.

Although THC can have side effects such as rapid heart rate or panic, these reduce with tolerance, Gusdorff said.

Elmer Zink, a longtime patient at RISE’s Steelton facility, used to take 10 to 12 opiates per day for chronic pain, but now he does not take opiates or other pain medication. He was even able to drop his anxiety medication to a minimal dose, he said.

“He’s completely different,” said his wife, Cindy Zink.

It also helped him get some feeling back after nerve damage.

“You would have thought he was a little kid on Christmas,” she said. 

Jay Hricak, of Newberry Township, became a patient back in April to treat his ulcerative colitis. Formerly addicted to opioids, he was able to drop those pills as well as over-the-counter medication with the help of the marijuana.

“It’s helped me feel better and given me a quality of life that I haven’t had in 20 years — 25 years,” he said.

How it works: To get a prescription for medical marijuana, a patient must have one of 21 approved conditions — but even then it's not a guarantee.

Patients interested in getting a “green card” must go to a physician certified to prescribe marijuana — and some do not see patients outside of their practice. One that does is Omni Medical Services, which has clinics in areas including Lancaster and Camp Hill.

FILE - In this Thursday, Feb. 15, 2018 file photo, a woman holds the prescribed medical marijuana product used to treat her daughter's epilepsy after making a purchase at a medical marijuana dispensary in Butler, Pa. Two new studies released on Monday, April 2, 2018 suggest that legalization of marijuana may reduce the prescribing of opioids. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

To become eligible, the first step is to register online and be verified by a physician.

Once approved, the patient arrives at the dispensary for a free consultation with a medical professional to talk through medical history and use of other medications.

The dispensary will have 50 to 60 strains of marijuana in many forms, and a patient care specialist will guide patients through their options.

In Pennsylvania, dispensaries can sell medical marijuana in the following forms: pill, oil, tincture (under the tongue), topical, vaporization, nebulization (filtered through a machine), suppositories or dry leaf.

Edibles are not currently legal, to help deter kids and teens from taking part, and marijuana cannot be smoked — it must be vaped.

Most physicians require a yearly renewal.

Future: Gusdorff said the goal going forward is to get past the stigma of the drug and start associating it with the positive benefits of managing serious medical conditions such as ALS, commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, or Parkinson’s.

FILE - In this June 26, 2017, file photo, Desiree Hennessy attends to her adopted son Hestevan, who has Cerebral Palsy and suffers from chronic nerve pain, seizure disorder, during the Utah Patients Coalition news conference, in Salt Lake City. The push for legalized marijuana has moved into Utah and Oklahoma, two of the most conservative states in the country, further underscoring how quickly feelings about marijuana are changing in the United States. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)

“I talk to a lot of stubborn physicians,” Gusdorff said. “I used to be one.”

This April, all neurodegenerative conditions were added to the state-approved list.

Insomnia, anxiety and stress do not currently qualify for medicinal marijuana treatment, but they often go hand-in-hand with other conditions. Often, it’s these symptoms that patients are seeing relief from when using cannabis.

Gusdorff hopes that one day these will be eligible problems for treatment and that medical marijuana could also help veterans with PTSD.

“We can either grow together or make excuses for staying put,” he said.