Minnesota Medical Marijuana System Tough On Chronic Pain Patients

medical marijuana programOne of the approved conditions for medical marijuana in the state of Minnesota is intractable pain. Intractable pain is pain that can’t easily be tracked to a specific source and treated successfully, and many patients with chronic pain are deemed to have intractable pain. So you’d think the medical marijuana program in Minnesota would be beneficial for chronic pain sufferers? Well, according to a recent article in the Star-Tribune, it’s anything but easy.

Jumping Through Hoops

Minnesota is at least moderately progressive in that it allows medical marijuana as a treatment option for some conditions, but there are still a number of issues with the current state of the program. For starters, the majority of doctors in Minnesota – including those who specialize in treating chronic pain – are not approved to certify patients for the medical marijuana program. The reason being is that the health care system employers prohibit these doctors from prescribing it. Some doctors who treat rare and severe illnesses can prescribe the treatment, but the vast majority cannot.

So, most doctors are unable to prescribe it. You’d think the state would compile a list of doctors that could prescribe medical marijuana to those who qualify, but no state-provided list exists. Instead, patients need to search the web, call clinics and try to track down a doctor who can prescribe the treatment on their own.

Footing The Bill

Once you’ve tracked down a doctor and had your medical records faxed over to the clinic, you finally get to meet with a specialist who can prescribe medical marijuana. But, according to the Star-Tribune columnist who sought medical marijuana for her pain, since the appointment was for medical marijuana certification, her insurance wouldn’t cover it. So the $844 bill for the 90-minute session would come out of her pocket.

If she would be approved by the state, she’d have to pay a certification fee. That runs $200, and it needs to be renewed each and every year. Moreover, after you pay your certification fee, your treatment needs to be approved by the state. If you are approved, you then have to fill out a Patient Self-Evaluation Form. Finally, after that is approved, you can visit a Cannabis Patient Center, where any purchases once again aren’t covered by insurance, so you’re paying out of pocket. Oh, and forget writing it off as a medical expense, as medical marijuana is not legal under federal law, so the expenses can’t be written off.

The author detailed how she would need to return to the clinic four weeks after receiving the medical marijuana for a follow-up appointment that again would not be covered by insurance (and again at six months). In all, she estimated that her start up costs would fall just short of $2,000 just to get into the program – and that’s without purchasing any medical marijuana.

There are good intentions behind the legalization of medical marijuana in Minnesota, but the program currently has many faults. These patients who are in incredible pain are repeatedly being asked to jump through hoops and open their wallets just with the hope that they can get in the program and find a solution for their pain. The current system is broken, and while we’d like to see more money being poured into medical marijuana research to ensure we increase treatment effectiveness, we can’t expect the solutions to happen on their own. We need to revamp the process for getting medical marijuana for patients with intractable pain.

The Health Conditions For Medical Marijuana in Minnesota

Medical Marijuana in MinnesotaAs Minnesota moves toward the end of 2014, the medical marijuana laws are starting to take effect. Minnesota’s laws have very strict rules with regards to the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes. It is restricted to only certain conditions and only two forms will be available; Pill or oil for vaporization.

Health care practitioners will have a limited role in the Minnesota medical marijuana program. Patients will be strictly controlled and monitored, and only limited conditions have been approved for treatment. Furthermore, all medical marijuana will be controlled and distributed only through specific state controlled distribution sites.

Medical Conditions For Marijuana in Minnesota

Minnesota has legalized cannabis for only seven medical conditions. The conditions are cancer, glaucoma, AIDS, Tourette’s syndrome, ALS, epilepsy and Crohn’s disease. Medical marijuana is also available to individuals with a terminal illness with a life expectancy of less than a year who are experiencing pain, suffering, nausea or wasting. The Department of Health can add new medical conditions to the list, but the Minnesota legislature has the power to veto any additions. The first condition that should be added before any other condition is intractable pain. The Commissioner of Health would need to provide a report to the legislature on the reasons why it would qualify for cannabis use in order to add chronic or intractable pain to the list of approved conditions.

Medical providers in Minnesota are not required to participate in the marijuana program. However, a provider who does participate has multiple responsibilities under the law. A participating provider who certifies a patient must continue to follow the patient once they start the program. A patient cannot have a casual relationship with the provider; they must undergo a comprehensive evaluation, including history and physical exam, development of a treatment strategy, determination of a qualifying condition, and be counseled on the risks and benefits of medical marijuana, knowing full-well that this is an experimental treatment. The patient must give informed consent to all aspects of management and be followed regularly to determine if the treatment is effective. Furthermore, their medical records must be shared for research and tracking purposes with the Department of Health. The patient must be re-certified for the program annually.

Medical Marijuana Dosage

The cannabis derivative and dose will be determined by the pharmacists that are associated with the program. They will provide instructions to the distribution centers on the cannabis type and dose to be delivered. The pharmacists with the Department of Health will also be in charge of evaluating data on the forms of medical marijuana available, and the study of the patients and their response to treatment, as well as reviewing the existing scientific data on cannabis.

The program planned for medical marijuana in Minnesota will be a very rigid, structured program for the use of this compound. It is designed to limit the inappropriate use of marijuana for recreational enjoyment. It is also meant to use cannabis as a medication, and to study the patients and its effectiveness in a comprehensive management environment. Hopefully, the program can be implemented and be effective. For now, until more scientific evidence becomes available, chronic pain will not be included in Minnesota’s program.

Marijuana and the Reduction in Painkiller Overdoses – Part 2

Medical Marijuana mnLast month we discussed the new study published in JAMA (The Journal of the American Medical Association) showing that drug overdose deaths due to opioids declined in 13 states that legalized medical marijuana. The study just looked at death rates overall due to opioids and noted that they happened to decline up to 30% in states that legalized medical marijuana. Today, I expand on the findings.

This study is great, sensational news, but in reality, it is a leap of faith that these two subjects are truly correlated. Opioid overdose and deaths are a very complex issue. The overdose of opioids is linked to many things, especially recreational use. The death rate from overdose is related to many factors, including whether the overdose was accidental or on purpose, such as a suicide. Furthermore, the access to treatment for overdose is important, especially whether first responders can recognize it and provide drug reversal rapidly and then get a person to a hospital for support. So, if you are using opioids to get high, it does not matter if marijuana for medical use is legal since they are not using it.

Medical marijuana is used for a variety of problems, including nausea related to cancer, seizures, and glaucoma. None of those conditions have much to do with opioids and drug overdoses. So if marijuana is legal for glaucoma or treating seizures, why would death rate due to narcotic overdose change? Rationally, it would not.

Unfortunately, this is just another example of a study finding a nice statistic that has no true correlation to the data. This study did not specifically look at factors that are related to opioid overdose death. If the study actually looked at reasons related to opioid overdoses, treatments, and deaths, there may be some validity. Rewarding medical marijuana with this lofty success is poor research and data interpretation. A prestigious journal, JAMA, should do much better at critically analyzing research and publishing articles. This is an amazingly poor job of data analysis and conclusions with an over simplification of causes of opioid related deaths.

Study: Medical Marijuana Leads to Fewer Overdose Deaths

Medical Marijuana MNA new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that states that have legalized medical marijuana report significantly fewer overdose deaths than states that haven’t legalized medical cannabis.

The Study

For their study, researchers analyzed mortality data and medical marijuana adoption across the US between 1999 and 2010. Only 13 states adopted medical marijuana by the end of data collection, but the results were fascinating.

“We found that there was about a 25% lower rate of prescription painkiller overdose deaths on average after implementation of a medical marijuana law,” said lead author Dr. Marcus Bachhuber.

Looking solely at 2010, Bachhuber said states with medical marijuana laws experienced about 1,700 fewer deaths than what would have been expected based on numbers prior to medical marijuana legislation. Bachhuber said medical marijuana can be a viable option for individuals suffering from certain chronic pain conditions.

“It can be challenging for people to control chronic pain, so I think the more potions we have, the better,” he said. “But I think it’s important, of course, to weigh the risks and benefits of medical marijuana.”

As I mentioned in previous blog posts, the issue I have with marijuana is that it contains so many compounds that haven’t been sufficiently studied. I’m all for conducting more research on medical marijuana, but I don’t think the results of this study mean every state should immediately legalize medical marijuana.

It’s certainly an eye-opening study and raises many good points, but one of the main objectives of any good pain doctor is to control for as many variables as possible. That’s much harder to do with marijuana. You don’t know how the compounds in that specific plant are going to react with that specific person.

The American Academy of Pain Medicine echoed similar sentiments when discussing the recent findings.

“AAPM believes that we need to do research on cannabinoids to determine its safety and efficacy,” said Dr. Lynn Webster, former AAPM president. “The problem with medical marijuana is that we never know using marijuana what chemicals are being ingested. That makes it really unpredictable, but the use of cannabinoids may well have a place in the treatment of pain and other diseases. The AAPM believes that the DEA should reschedule cannabinoids from Schedule I to Schedule II so that it will make it easier for research to be conducted.”

There will almost certainly be more research on medical marijuana in the near future, but until more is known, it can’t be viewed as a perfect solution.

Related source: CNN.com

Medical Marijuana For Chronic Pain in Minnesota

Medical marijuana mnMinnesota has taken a conservative approach to the use of marijuana for medical purposes. Only a little quality research has been done with regards to the use of marijuana for pain. Most of these studies have been done for patients with cancer or eye problems, and current research is focused on seizures.

The reason why marijuana research is moving slowly is because there are all over 100 compounds that may be an active in cannabis. Most medical professionals would like to know both the positive and negative aspects of any intervention. Since there is no significant marijuana research available, it is hard for medical professionals to recommend the use of this compound.

Marijuana in Minnesota

Minnesota’s new marijuana laws allow the use of marijuana for only limited medical diagnoses. At this time, chronic pain is not included in the list of treatment recommendations. Chronic pain is extremely complex, and has multiple causes in most people. A single compound like marijuana is unlikely to be helpful and every person. Determining which group of patients would be helped by such a compound will be difficult due to the variety of conditions that cause pain.

Most physicians in Minnesota will not be prescribing medical marijuana. If you have chronic pain, do not expect a physician to write you a prescription for marijuana, especially since it isn’t approved for recreational use in Minnesota or even nationally. Furthermore, the drug enforcement administration (DEA) can stop a physician from being able to prescribe any medications if they prescribe to known drug abusers. The use of marijuana is not considered a legal medication, and physicians can lose their license if they prescribe to a patient who abuses marijuana.

Alleviating Symptoms

Pain symptoms in some patients may seem to improve with the use of marijuana. There are many compounds in marijuana that may help control a variety of symptoms including anxiety and pain. Most physicians who are prescribing control medications such as narcotics will do a urine drug screen to determine whether street drugs are being used by the patient. Most physicians have a zero tolerance rule for the use of street drugs since they could lose their license if they prescribe to an abuser. If you use marijuana, do not expect to be prescribed narcotic medication. Most pain physicians will work with you to control your symptoms with other treatments that are very effective in managing your problems.

In the distant future, when we know which compounds in marijuana are effective, we may be able to develop more comprehensive treatment plans for patients with chronic pain. Until that time, hopefully the change in laws will promote good research with regards to the active compounds that will be effective in managing pain. More tools to treat pain will always be helpful. Unfortunately, research takes time and these new compounds may take up to 10 years or longer to develop.