ST. PAUL, MN — Patients suffering from intractable pain will soon be able to have access to medical marijuana in Minnesota.
Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) Commissioner Dr. Ed Ehlinger announced the decision to add intractable pain, as defined in Minnesota law, to the list of qualifying conditions for which patients can legally access medical marijuana on Wednesday, while calling upon the state’s health care community to boost efforts to help patients deal with pain more effectively.
Ehlinger said it was a “difficult decision” to add intractable pain to the medical marijuana program without an abundance of “solid, scientific evidence about benefits and risks,” but acknowledged it was the “right and compassionate choice.”
“The relative scarcity of firm evidence made this a difficult decision,” Ehlinger said in a statement. “However, given the strong medical focus of Minnesota’s medical cannabis program and the compelling testimony of hundreds of Minnesotans, it became clear that the right and compassionate choice was to add intractable pain to the program’s list of qualifying conditions. This gives new options for clinicians and new hope for suffering patients.”
“As a physician, I share the concerns of health care providers and I sympathize with their desire for more information,” Ehlinger added. “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.”
Unless the state legislature passes a law to override the decision, physicians can certify intractable pain patients for medical marijuana beginning on July 1, 2016. Intractable pain patients who become certified for medical marijuana use become eligible to receive medical cannabis on August 1, 2016.
Marijuana advocates applauded the decision, calling it sensible and compassionate.
“This is a sensible and compassionate decision that will help a lot of Minnesotans who suffer every day from intractable pain, said Robert Capecchi of the Marijuana Policy Project. “We commend Commissioner Ehlinger and everyone else involved in taking this important step toward improving the lives of countless Minnesotans.”
“Medical marijuana has been found to be an effective treatment option for people suffering from severe and chronic pain. It is oftentimes more effective than prescription painkillers, and it is undeniably far less addictive and less toxic,” Capecchi added. “Recent research shows that states that allow medical marijuana for severe and chronic pain have lower rates of fatal prescription drug overdoses. The decision to add intractable pain as a qualifying condition in Minnesota will improve not only the health of individual patients, but also the community as a whole.”
The majority of the 23 states with workable medical marijuana programs allow the use of medical marijuana to treat intractable pain, Capecchi noted.
When Minnesota passed the law creating Minnesota’s medical cannabis program in 2014, it included a set of nine health conditions that would qualify a person to receive medical cannabis. The law tasked the health commissioner with evaluating what conditions to add, and required that the first of the conditions to be considered was intractable pain.
State law defines intractable pain as a condition “in which the cause of the pain cannot be removed or otherwise treated with the consent of the patient and in which, in the generally accepted course of medical practice, no relief or cure of the cause of the pain is possible, or none has been found after reasonable efforts.”
As with the program’s other qualifying conditions, patients seeking medical cannabis to treat intractable pain will need advance certification from a Minnesota health care provider.
More information on the program’s certification process is available on the MDH website at Medical Cannabis: Intractable Pain.
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