Chronic Pain Patients Now Qualify For Medical Marijuana In Minnesota

By Victoria Kim 08/04/16
Minnesotans living with intractable pain now have another treatment option.
Chronic Pain Patients Now Qualify For Medical Marijuana In Minnesota

As of Monday, August 1st, chronic pain patients in Minnesota are now able to access medical cannabis. Minnesotans living with intractable pain who have not been able to find relief through traditional therapies can now be certified as having a qualifying condition for medical cannabis.

“We take for granted the idea of meeting a friend for lunch, or ‘I have these errands to run,’ or ‘Let’s go for a drive.’ For me, right now, that’s not possible,” a pain patient, Judy Severson, told the Star Tribune. Severson, 70, has an inoperable cyst on her spine, fibromyalgia, and arachnoiditis (inflammation of her spinal chord lining). She says she would take hydrocodone five times a day to help diminish the pain. Severson is one of hundreds of patients that have so far enrolled in the state medical cannabis program since it began allowing pain patients to enroll. 

The medical cannabis program saw 481 new enrollees in July, since it added intractable pain to the list of qualifying conditions—which also include cancer, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, and seizures. The program, which went into effect last year after being approved in 2014, usually averages 150 to 200 new enrollees per month. As of July 29, the Minnesota medical cannabis program had 1,827 active patients.

In 2015, 336 Minnesotans died of a prescription opiate overdose. The untimely death of music icon and Minnesota native, Prince, this past April was due to an overdose of fentanyl (a powerful opioid painkiller) though it’s still uncertain if he had a prescription for it, as fentanyl has increasingly appeared on the black market in recent years.

With the inclusion of intractable pain, some say it could also spark a conversation about alternative therapies for pain. “This is another way to get patients who are reluctant to try other things that might be more helpful for them,” Dr. Arthur Wineman of a local family practice told the Star Tribune. According to the Minnesota Department of Health, the next steps include coordinating “a broader conversation with the medical community on how to best address pain.”

So far, 25 states and Washington, D.C. have medical cannabis programs. The early research of the impact on medical cannabis states is promising. A study published in the July issue of Health Affairs showed that overall, people in these states are choosing cannabis over prescription drugs like painkillers, antidepressants, anti-anxiety drugs and sleeping pills, resulting in huge Medicare savings. 

And a 2014 analysis of over a decade’s worth of death certificate data showed a 24.8% lower mean annual opioid overdose mortality rate in medical cannabis states, compared with states that did not have a medical cannabis program.

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