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Minnesota Adds New Qualifying Conditions to Medical Cannabis Program

The Minnesota Department of Health announced on Wednesday that the agency will add irritable bowel syndrome and obsessive-compulsive disorder to the list of qualifying medical conditions for participation in the state’s medical cannabis program. Officials from the state say that the state will add these new conditions to the list of qualifying medical conditions. They will be effective as soon as August 1st 2023.

“We are adding the new qualifying conditions to allow patients more therapy options for conditions that can be debilitating,” Minnesota Commissioner of Health Jan Malcolm said in a statement from the health department.

Irritable stool syndrome (IBS), is an illness that causes abdominal discomfort and irregular bowel movements. It can lead to constipation or diarrhea as well as constipation. Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), is characterised by persistent, intrusive thoughts. This can often lead to significant emotional distress or anxiety for those with this disorder. These thoughts can cause repetitive behaviors or actions that people with OCD feel the need to do to relieve their distress.

“Research has shown that people who suffer from these conditions can see benefits from using medical cannabis to treat their symptoms,” the health department wrote. 

The new qualifying conditions offer a modest expansion to the state’s medical cannabis program, with an estimated 10% of adults having IBS and 1% meeting the diagnostic criteria for OCD, according to media reports. 

Minnesota Patients are supportive of the creation of new conditions

In public comments on the petitions to add IBS and obsessive-compulsive disorder to Minnesota’s medical marijuana program, a man identified by the initials RH described himself as a working professional with a wife and two daughters.

“My daily life consists of constant fear and stress,” said RH, who noted he has OCD. “Practically the only time I am free of the symptoms is when I am sleeping.”

Under state rules, patients certified for the newly approved qualifying medical conditions will become eligible to enroll in the state’s medical cannabis program on July 1, 2023. Patients will be able to receive medical cannabis from either of the state’s two medical cannabis manufacturers beginning on August 1, 2023. Patients who wish to use medical marijuana to treat any of the state’s qualifying conditions need advance certification from a participating Minnesota healthcare provider.

Non-approval of Opioid Use Disorder

The health department declined to approve petitions to add opioid use disorder and gastroparesis, a condition that affects the normal spontaneous movement of the stomach muscles, to Minnesota’s list of conditions that qualify a patient to use medical marijuana. Research has shown that marijuana can worsen the condition.

Chris Tholkes, director of the Minnesota Department of Health’s Office of Medical Cannabis, said that the decision not to add opioid use disorder was a difficult one, noting that limited access to existing treatment options, such as methadone clinics, in some geographic areas was one factor that supported approval of the petition.

“We did struggle with this one,” Tholkes told the Star Tribune, adding that 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.”

As the opioid overdose epidemic continues to ravage the country, the decision not approve opioid use disorder is a major victory for Minnesota. Many comments from the public indicated that marijuana can be substituted for opioids.

“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,” said a commenter, identified publicly by the initials TB. “I only use cannabis now.”

When Minnesota lawmakers passed legislation creating the state’s medical cannabis program in 2014, the law included nine conditions that qualified a patient to receive medical cannabis. The new amendments will bring the number of qualified conditions to 19. Current qualifying conditions include cancer, chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder, glaucoma as well as other serious medical conditions.

More than 39,000 Minnesotans are enrolled in the state’s medical marijuana program, up from 29,000 in 2021. Nearly half of registered participants qualify for the state’s medical marijuana program because they have intractable chronic pain. A third are qualified to treat PTSD. Common qualifying conditions include muscle spasms and cancer.

Each year, new conditions are considered

The health department holds a formal petition each year to seek public input about possible qualifying medical conditions or delivery methods. This is followed by a public comments period and a review panel.

State rules require that the commissioner of Health annually examine new petitions for qualifying medical conditions or cannabis delivery methods. This year, no petitions were filed for the creation of new delivery methods.