Marijuana No ‘Magic Bullet’ for Pain in Minnesota

By Pat Anson, Editor

Minnesota may be one of 23 U.S. states where medical marijuana is legal, but getting a prescription for cannabis there is difficult – especially for chronic pain patients.

Since Minnesota enacted one of the nation’s strictest medical marijuana laws last year, less than 700 people have enrolled in the state’s cannabis registry. Only nine health conditions qualify for a marijuana prescription in Minnesota – and chronic pain isn’t one of them – a status that appears unlikely to change after an advisory panel voted 5-3 not to allow pain patients into the cannabis registry.

The reason? Medical marijuana is “not a magic bullet” and there’s not enough evidence that it can treat pain.

“Panel members expressed concern that patients eligible to use medical cannabis for pain have expectations that it would provide total relief and that such a perception may leave patients to abandon other proven pain-management methods, such as physical therapy,” the recommendation said.

“Panel members cited the recent opioid crisis, where good medications were demonized because prescribers used it to treat pain without knowing its proper uses. Even after studying the information available on medical cannabis, panel members said providers do not feel prepared to certify patients for its use.”

The panel recommended that marijuana not be prescribed to anyone with a history of substance abuse or patients with mental health problems. If marijuana is allowed for intractable chronic pain, the panel suggested that patients should be disqualified if they are under 21, have a history of psychosis, are pregnant or breast feeding.

The final decision is in the hands of Minnesota’s Health Commissioner, who has until the end of the year to decide if medical marijuana should be allowed for intractable pain.

The nine conditions that qualify for medical marijuana in Minnesota are cancer, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, Tourette Syndrome, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), seizures, severe muscle spasms, Crohn’s Disease and terminal illness.

Terminally ill cancer patients – many of whom are in pain – are allowed to use medical marijuana. And many say they’ve been able to reduce their use of opioids since they started taking marijuana, according to the Minneapolis StarTribune.

“What are we going to do about patients? What do we tell patients who we know we can help, but we currently can’t help them? That’s the remarkably frustrating thing about this process that gets to me,” said Manny Munson-Regala, CEO of LeafLine Labs, one of the state’s two medical marijuana producers.

In addition to limits on the conditions it can be prescribed for, medical marijuana is not available in leaf form and cannot legally be smoked in Minnesota.  It is only legal in a pill, vapor or liquid form.