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Minnesotans with autism and sleep apnea now qualify for medical cannabis

The list of qualifying conditions is slowly expanding.
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More Minnesotans will soon be able to access the state's medical cannabis program.

Autism spectrum disorders and obstructive sleep apnea have just been added to the list of qualifying conditions, the Minnesota Department of Health announced Thursday.

The decision comes months after the health department sought public input about new conditions to add to the list – something they do every year. Throughout June and July, Minnesotans sent in their suggestions and shared why they believe medical marijuana could help them.

The agency listened to public comments, held multiple meetings of a citizens review panel, and reviewed research summaries for each condition prepared by Minnesota Department of Health staff.

Minnesota Commissioner of Health Dr. Ed Ehlinger said that any policy decisions about marijuana are difficult "due to the relative lack of published scientific evidence."

“However, there is increasing evidence for potential benefits of medical cannabis for those with severe autism and obstructive sleep apnea."

How cannabis can help

The health department says there's evidence Minnesota children with autism are already benefitting from medical cannabis.

How? Many of them are taking the medication for other qualifying conditions, such as Tourette's Syndrome or seizures.

The research team also found a growing body of research indicating that the human body’s endocannabinoid system may play a role in autism symptoms, with the ability to regulate emotion and focus, and prevent further degradation of brain cells.

Lack of effective drug treatments and the potentially severe side effects of those currently offered further supported the argument for adding autism to the list of qualifying conditions.

When it comes to sleep apnea, the department found scientific evidence of the effectiveness of cannabis treatments. 

The department noted that continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) is a very effective treatment already in use, but people with the condition often struggle to stick with that therapy.

Patients certified with autism or obstructive sleep apnea will be eligible to enroll in the program on July 1, 2018, and start receiving medical cannabis beginning Aug. 1, 2018.

Patients will need advance certification from a Minnesota health care provider. More information on the program’s certification process is available from the Office of Medical Cannabis.

LeafLine Labs celebrates

Minnesota has only two registered medical cannabis providers – Minnesota Medical Solutions and LeafLine Labs.

In a statement to GoMN, CEO and co-founder of LeafLine Labs Dr. Andrew Bachman said the decision to add autism as a qualifying condition was a "step forward."

“We are eager and honored to provide quality medicine, compassionate care, and perhaps most importantly, boundless hope, for any and all patients who we may responsibly benefit," Bachman said.

Related:

Meet the Minnesotan behind LeafLine Labs – one of MN's medical marijuana providers.

LeafLine Labs also shared a comment from the mother of one of its patients.

“It’s been a long time coming, and an emotional day for us. We’ve worked hard to make sure that autism was added as an approved condition so that others will be able to avoid what we went through,” said Victoria Grancarich of Minneapolis. 

“Before medical cannabis, my 14-year-old autistic son self-harmed to the point of skull fractures and massive tissue damage. But after using medical cannabis to treat his seizures, all of his self-injury and aggression stopped. The helmet was removed and my son was able to return to school and he is my happy, sweet boy again."

You can read more about Julian's story here.

Other conditions that were considered

Autism and sleep apnea were among 10 total conditions that Minnesotans petitioned for consideration this year.

The rejected conditions? Anxiety disorders, cortico-basal degeneration, dementia, endogenous cannabinoid deficiency syndrome, liver disease, nausea, Parkinson’s disease and peripheral neuropathy.

Petitioners also called for new cannabis delivery methods in what is currently an extract-only program. But requests for infused edibles and vaporizing or smoking cannabis flowers were denied.

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