Minnesota will allow medical marijuana for treating 'intractable pain'

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Minnesotans suffering from "intractable pain" will be able to use medicinal marijuana.

Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Ed Ehlinger announced the decision to add intractable pain as a qualifying condition for the state's medical cannabis program Wednesday, saying it was the "right and compassionate choice" despite little "solid, scientific evidence" being available about the benefits and risks.

Ehlinger made the call despite an advisory panel of eight medical experts previously voting 5-3 against adding pain as a qualifying condition.

But that recommendation was one of hundreds of comments and testimonies given to the department by patients, doctors and experts as it mulled over the decision. The release says 90 percent of the 500-plus comments received were in favor of adding it as a qualifying condition.

"The relative scarcity of firm evidence made this a difficult decision," Ehlinger said. "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."

More on qualifying conditions

Medicinal marijuana became legal in Minnesota this past July, but only a limited number of conditions qualify for medical cannabis including HIV/AIDS, ALS, seizures and Crohn’s Disease among others.

As a result, the state decided to look into expanding its availability to include intractable pain, which it defines as:

"A pain state 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."

Anyone who qualifies will be able to receive medical marijuana from Aug. 1, 2016 following the state's decision, and as with other patients they will need "advance certification" from a health provider.

Ehlinger said he is confident that the safeguards in place within Minnesota's cannabis program will prevent it being abused once it expands.

"As a physician, I share the concerns of health care providers and I sympathize with their desire for more information," he said. "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."

Dave Thorson, President of the Minnesota Medical Association, said he "remains concerned" about the decision to expand the use of medical pot for these conditions, which he says are "difficult to objectively certify."

"Treatment of severe and chronic pain deserves careful consideration and medical cannabis should never be a first-line therapy," he said in a statement. "Significant questions about the efficacy of medical cannabis remain and we continue to call for additional well-controlled studies."

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