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MN Medical Marijuana Program Adds Two New Qualifying Conditions

State officials add OCD and IBS to the list of conditions that qualify patients for enrollment in the program.



Last week the Minnesota Department of Health announced the inclusion of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) to the list of medical issues qualifying patients to enroll in the state's medical cannabis program, according to multiple news outlets. The new qualifying conditions become effective August 1, 2023


In a statement, MN Commissioner of Health, Jan Malcolm, said, "We are adding the new qualifying conditions to allow patients more therapy options for conditions that can be debilitating."


"We are adding the new qualifying conditions to allow patients more therapy options for conditions that can be debilitating."

- Jan Malcolm, MN Commissioner of Health


OCD plagues those suffering from it with frequent, intrusive thoughts that can lead to emotional pain and debilitating anxiety. To alleviate that psychological stress, patients will resort to repetitive actions or "ticks" that can have a profound negative impact on the daily life of sufferers and those close to them. IBS features stomach pain, irregular bowel movements, diarrhea, constipation and bloating for those diagnosed with the condition.


The expansion to the state's medical marijuana program is relatively modest, with around 10% of adults having IBS and roughly 1% meeting the diagnostic criteria for OCD. In its decision, the MN Health Department further wrote, "Research has shown that people who suffer from these conditions can see benefits from using medical cannabis to treat their symptoms."


For those who provide advance certification from a participating MN health provider for the new qualifying conditions, enrollment in the medical cannabis program can begin on July 1, 2023. They will then be able to receive marijuana from either of the state's two certified manufacturers beginning on August 1, 2023.


Other significant disorders did not receive approval for addition to the program, most notably opioid use disorder. Despite petitions and passionate pleas on the part of those suffering from the two-decade opioid crisis, the Health Department declined to add the condition to the rolls of the medical marijuana program.


Additionally, gastroparesis, a condition that affects the normal movement of stomach muscles, was also denied entry into the program. The main reason for its exclusion was because research indicates that marijuana can potentially worsen the condition.


The denial of opioid use disorder to the program was a difficult decision for health officials. Unfortunately, a substantial number of Minnesotans and Americans from every corner of the union have been caught up in the tidal wave of the catastrophic opioid overdose epidemic.


Desperate to break the vise grip of their addiction, several petitioners passionately advocated for the disorder's inclusion in the program, with many strongly feeling that cannabis could be a literal lifesaver for those suffering.


The limited access to existing treatment outlets, such as methadone clinics, because of geographic constraints was a significant factor in considering its inclusion in the state's medical cannabis program.


In an interview with the Minnesota Star Tribune, Chris Tholkes, Director of the Minnesota Department of Health's Office of Medical Cannabis, explains, "We did struggle with this one. (Medical providers were concerned that) introducing another type of drug could lead to relapse. And in the case of opioid use, relapse can be fatal."


"We did struggle with this one. (Medical providers were concerned that) introducing another type of drug could lead to relapse. And in the case of opioid use, relapse can be fatal."

- Chris Tholkes, Dir. of the MN Dept. of Health's Office of Medical Cannabis


Despite the reservations, many suffering from opioid addiction commented on their success using cannabis as a replacement during the petition process. As one petitioner only going by the initials, TB shared, "After having gone (through) nine years of painkiller use under medical prescription for pain, I know that the use of cannabis would help ease the withdrawal side of it. I only use cannabis now."


"After having gone (through) nine years of painkiller use under medical prescription for pain, I know that the use of cannabis would help ease the withdrawal side of it. I only use cannabis now."

- TB, From Medical Marijuana Program Petition Process


With the addition of OCD and IBS, the total number of medical conditions included in the program is now 19. Some others include chronic pain, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), cancer, glaucoma, sleep apnea, and other serious medical conditions.


There are more than 39,000 Minnesotans enrolled in the medical marijuana program, up 25% from the 2021 total of 29,000. State rules require the MN Commissioner of Health to consider new petitions for additional medical conditions to be added to the program and new marijuana delivery methods every year.


With the addition of OCD and IBS to the roster, the benefits of medicinal marijuana will now be available to even more citizens of Minnesota in 2023. Hopefully, with the aid of additional medical research and patient advocacy, the program will continue to expand and provide a welcome reduction in pain, anxiety and suffering for those who truly can benefit from the potential health and wellness properties of cannabis.


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