Minnesotans with uncontrolled pain can now get medical cannabis

- Judy Severson stood before the TV cameras and tried not to cry.  The 70-year-old grandmother of eight from Edina, Minn. who was about to begin taking medical marijuana and was feeling overcome with emotion.

“I am so excited about this program,” Severson said as she wiped away tears. “I have waited for a long time. The quality of life that I can have, the promise of that is overwhelming. I want to travel! I want to interact with friends!”

Severson described the long-running back pain that began with fibromyalgia and progressed into cyst on her spine.  She had one operation that did not work and was told there was nothing more she could do but treat the pain with prescription medications.  She is taking the maximum-allowed dosage of an opioid, which is losing its effectiveness and leaving her with a host of side-effects she doesn’t like.  She spends most of her time on the couch, wishing she could enjoy life again.

“It has to work for me, it really does,” Severson said of the medical cannabis. “it’s wearing me down. It wears you down terribly to be in pain all the time.”

As of August 1, “intractable pain” became the 10th condition treatable in Minnesota by medical cannabis and 481 people had pre-registered with the Minnesota Department of Health.  The pain must be chronic and untreatable in any other way than medication.

Former emergency physicians who now head up the two companies in Minnesota to grow and dispense medical marijuana applaud the change as the start of getting patients away from the dangers of prescription pain-killers.

“There’s no endpoint with cannabis where people stop breathing,” Dr. Kyle Kingsley, CEO of Minnesota Medical Solutions, said. “It can become problematic if you have too many side effects, but it’s not like opioids, where if you take too much opioids, you will die, no matter who you are.”

Dr. Andrew Bachman, CEO of LeafLine Labs sounded a similar warning.  

“Right now, prescription drugs are the leading cause of preventable death in America,” Bachman told Fox 9. “Cannabis has been used medically for over 5,000 years by humans, with scrolls dating back to 2700 BC in China.  It has never once had a documented case of overdose resulting in death.”

Both doctors say they’ll continue to pressure lawmakers to add more conditions, beginning with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, noting the high number of suicides by veterans.

For now, they hope to get more and more pain patients through the doors of the state’s eight clinics, four operated by each of the providers.

Judy Severson has high hopes, based on all she’s read, that this will let her live a little bit more.  “Here we go,” she exclaimed. “Keep in touch! Follow me, you’re going to see wonderful things happen.”

Aug. 1, 2016 is the first day patients can visit a MinnMed of LeafLine Labs dispensary to purchase cannabis-based medicine to treat their uncontrolled pain, or “intractable pain” as defined in the state law.

WHAT IS INTRACTABLE PAIN? Minnesota’s medical cannabis 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.”

The authors originally left intractable pain out of the enabling legislation for a number of factors: First, there was the problem of defining intractable pain. Second, though no one would publicly admit it, they were worried about recreational users claiming they had intractable pain. Third, they didn’t think they’d have the votes to support passage of the legislation if the condition was included.

Once patients with intractable pain are certified as having the condition, they can start receiving medical cannabis at patient cannabis centers starting August 1, 2016. The state expects the addition of intractable pain to increase the number of patients using medical cannabis, but there is no estimate of the number of potential pain patients at this time.

8 PATIENT CENTERS NOW OPEN: All eight of Minnesota’s medical cannabis patient centers, operated by LeafLine Labs and MinnMed, are now open. LeafLine’s newest patient center is opening July 1 in St. Paul. The two suppliers have patient centers in Minneapolis, St. Paul, Bloomington, Rochester, St. Cloud, Moorhead, Eagan and Hibbing.

REPORT CARD: During the first year of the state’s medical cannabis program, the Minnesota Department of Health didn't received any reports of serious adverse health events. About 90 percent of medical cannabis patients reported “mild to significant” benefits during the first three months of the program, according to the MDH survey. Only about 20 percent of patients reported side effects – the most serious being an increase in seizures in 4 patients. Survey results - Most medical cannabis patients in Minnesota report benefits

ABOUT THE MEDICINE: Medical cannabis in Minnesota comes in pill or liquid forms, and is not available as an edible or as a plant for smoking.

HOW TO REGISTER: You can learn more and register as a patient at http://www.health.state.mn.us/topics/cannabis/


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