Minnesota Dept. of Health approves medical cannabis for Alzheimer's patients

Minnesota health officials are approving the use of cannabis to treat Alzheimer's disease. The condition will be included in the state's medical marijuana program starting next year.

“We’re facing an epidemic for a disease that, right now, there still is no cure,” said Dr. William Orr, the founder and CEO of the Orr Memory Clinic.

When he learned that medical marijuana was being considered to treat symptoms in advanced Alzheimer’s patients, he was one of those who wrote the Minnesota Department of Health to say it was worth trying the treatment.

“And so, I think the fact they granted this approval with limited evidence really speaks to the fact that this is kind of a desperate situation,” said Orr. 

Alzheimer’s was one of seven conditions put forward to add to the state’s medical marijuana list and it was the only one approved. There’s hope it can help treat the disease itself, but no evidence it can. There’s more evidence, and a lot more hope, it can help with devastating neuropsychological effects.

“It still may help handle some of the symptoms like anxiety, fear, paranoia that can occur in Alzheimer’s disease,” said Dr. Ronald Petersen, who directs the Mayo Clinic’s Alzheimer’s research center.

Petersen is also an advisor to the Alzheimer Association of Minnesota and North Dakota. He says interactions with other drugs is an unknown.

“But nevertheless, I think cautiously, if it’s observed carefully, it may be useful for some patients,” said Dr. Petersen.

Millions have Alzheimer’s and it is forecasted to quadruple in 20 years.

“And if you were to see the desperation that I do in my practice, I think you’d understand why this could be an important tool to add,” said Orr.

Patients certified to have Alzheimer’s will be eligible to enroll in the program on July 1 and can begin receiving medical cannabis on August 1. There are currently 13 qualifying conditions for cannabis treatment on the state's list.