Illinois Judge: Pain Patients Must Have Access To Medical Marijuana

By Kelly Burch 01/19/18

One pain patient's lawsuit helped make it possible for intractable pain to be added as a qualifying condition for the state's medical marijuana program.

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Ann Mednick regularly takes opioid painkillers to cope with extreme pain caused by her osteoarthritis. She wanted a pain management option with fewer side effects and a lower risk of addiction, but when she looked into Illinois’ medical marijuana program she found that she did not qualify. 

“Illinois is years behind the times,” Mednick told The Chicago Tribune. “The state needs to get [it] together.”

Mednick sued, and this week a judge ordered the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) to add intractable pain (pain that’s resistant to treatment) to the list of qualifying conditions for the state's medical marijuana program. 

“The record shows that individuals with intractable pain would benefit from the medical use of cannabis,” the judge wrote. 

However, the health department said that it will appeal the ruling, so pain patients in the state will likely remain unable to access legal medical marijuana any time soon. 

In 2016, IDPH director Dr. Nirav Shah denied Mednick’s petition, citing a lack of evidence that the benefits of medical marijuana for pain patients outweigh the risks. This week, the judge called Shah’s conclusion “clearly erroneous.”

Mednick’s lawyers presented two papers that reviewed 45 studies where marijuana was used to treat chronic pain. In states that allow intractable pain as a qualifying condition for medical marijuana, that is one of the most common reasons people opt into the program. 

With growing awareness of the highly addictive nature of opioid painkillers, many people feel that access to marijuana could help pain patients cope without pills. 

In fact, Illinois State Sen. Don Harmon has introduced legislation that would allow medical marijuana to be given instead of prescription painkillers no matter what condition a patient has. The bill had not yet been considered by the state legislature. 

Still, using medical marijuana to treat chronic pain remains somewhat taboo. This week the Department of Veterans Affairs announced that it will not study medical marijuana as a treatment for PTSD and chronic pain. 

“VA’s response not only failed to answer our simple question, but they made a disheartening attempt to mislead me, my colleagues, and the veteran community in the process,” Minnesota Rep. Tim Walz wrote in response to the announcement.

“They claimed, without citing any specific law, that VA is restricted from conducting research into medical cannabis, which is categorically untrue. They also go on to make additional excuses while demonstrating a severely limited understanding of existing medical cannabis research in the process.”

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.