Med. cannabis rule broadens

Earlier this month, intractable pain was added as a qualifying condition for medical cannabis.

Kristina Busch

Starting next summer, Minnesota patients suffering from intractable pain will be able to obtain medical cannabis with certification from a health care provider.  
 
Based on the strong support from many Minnesotans and despite opposition from the Advisory Panel on Intractable Pain, Health Commissioner Ed Ehlinger made the decision to include intractable pain as one of the qualifying conditions for medical cannabis. 
 
Still some physicians fear that it’s too soon to name medical cannabis as an effective medical treatment. 
 
“It became clear that the right and compassionate choice was to add intractable pain to the program’s list of qualifying conditions,” Ehlinger said in a Minnesota Department of Health press release. “This gives new options for clinicians and new hope for suffering patients.”
 
Twenty-three states have medical marijuana programs, and 18 of those states currently allow the drug as a pain treatment. Medical cannabis became available to qualifying patients in Minnesota in July.
 
Last month, Ehlinger led a meeting with the Advisory Panel on Intractable Pain to collect public comments.
 
At the time, the Advisory Panel on Intractable Pain said health care providers were apprehensive to prescribe medical cannabis for intractable pain because of inadequate evidence to suggest it effectively treats the pain. 
 
Medical cannabis should not be the first treatment given for pain, Minnesota Medical Association President Dave Thorson said in a statement. 
 
Intractable pain, or a state of pain that cannot be treated by traditional medical practices, has complex symptoms and is difficult toX diagnose, Thorson said in the statement. 
 
“With the current list of qualifying conditions, it’s more black and white whether you have Crohn’s Disease or epilepsy,” MMA spokesperson Dan Hauser said. “It’s hard to determine whether a person has pain because it’s somewhat arbitrary by the patient’s perception.”
 
Because marijuana is classified as a Schedule I drug, it is associated with illicit substances like crack cocaine, which have no medical use, he said. 
 
“The concern is people would come in with, not necessarily with pain, but claiming they have pain so they can access medical cannabis,” Hauser said. 
 
Many doctors say until the FDA reclassifies the drug so that it can be scientifically studied, they won’t know if medical cannabis is an effective treatment, Hauser 
said. 
 
“As a physician, I share the concerns of health care providers, and I sympathize with their desire for more information,” Ehlinger said in the MDH press release. “In the end, I determined that with Minnesota’s cautious and well-designed program, we can safely and responsibly give patients and providers the option of adding medical cannabis as a tool to treat intractable pain.”
 
Currently, only two manufacturers in Minnesota can produce medical cannabis, and the drug is limited to pill, liquid and vapor forms. 
 
In November, the Advisory Panel recommended health care providers to be cautious of prescribing medical cannabis to patients with mental health conditions negatively affected by the drug or that have histories of substance abuse. 
 
Every six months, MDH will ask providers about patients’ negative and positive experiences with medical cannabis and will provide that information to the public, according to a press release.