Minnesota OKs cannabis for traumatic brain injury

Minnesota’s health commissioner has authorized a significant expansion of medical marijuana in the state, approving cannabis use for chronic pain and some eye conditions and announcing more stores and methods to deliver prescriptions.

Intractable pain already is the most common qualifying condition for two-thirds of the state’s 18,000 medical cannabis users, but the addition of chronic pain starting in August should dramatically increase the number of legal users. Cannabis also will be permissible for people with age-related macular degeneration, a retinal condition that degrades vision over time.

“The bottom line is that people suffering from these serious conditions may be helped by participating in the program, and we felt it was important to give them the opportunity to seek that relief,” state health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said in expanding to 16 the number of qualifying conditions in Minnesota.

Malcolm rejected petitions by Minnesotans to add anxiety, insomnia, psoriasis and traumatic brain injury as qualifying conditions, citing a lack of scientific evidence to support them. Chronic pain is a much broader category than intractable pain, which under state law is defined as a form of intolerable pain that cannot be addressed with other remedies or medications.

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Malcolm said she was moved by success stories of patients with intractable pain, and wanted to expand access so that pain-sufferers didn’t have to exhaust all other remedies first. Public comments issued this fall illustrated the need, especially as opioid medications are being prescribed less for chronic pain due to the risks of addiction and overdose.

“I am in pain all of the time,” said one person, identified in state documents by the initials K.S. “With the changes in opiate prescribing laws, people like me are fighting a (losing) battle.”

State Sen. Melisa Franzen favored adding chronic pain, stating that people should have more “freedom” in finding treatments that work.

“No two stories of chronic pain are the same,” she wrote.

No written statements were submitted opposing the addition of chronic pain as a qualifying condition.

But some doctors remain concerned about the lack of scientific evidence proving that cannabis works — a standard that is usually required in U.S. medicine. Some also worry about the potential for users to suffer addictions and impaired judgment.

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