Minnesota commissioner allows medical marijuana use for intractable pain

By Kathy Bray, Esq.

Despite the recommendation of a state advisory panel against allowing intractable pain as a qualifying condition to use medical marijuana, the Minnesota commissioner of health decided to the contrary.

The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) issued a news release  today announcing Commissioner Ed Ehlinger's decision to add intractable pain as a qualifying condition under Minnesota’s medical cannabis program.

The commissioner acknowledged the scarcity of solid, scientific evidence on the issue, but said he wanted to leave the option open to medical providers, according to the news release. Nearly 500 residents commented on the addition of intractable pain becoming a qualifying condition for medical cannabis with more than 90 percent in support.

Patients may seek approval to receive this treatment option as early as August 1, 2016. The same certification process applied to patients with other qualifying medical conditions for medical marijuana use will apply to intractable pain patients. Only those patients approved for the state registry will be eligible to legally use medical cannabis. 

A simple complaint of pain is not sufficient for a patient to qualify under the “intractable pain” provision of the law.  “Intractable pain” is specifically defined in the statute, and is defined as:

“...pain [that] 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.”

What the decision means for workers' compensation

What does this mean for workers’ compensation programs?  Time will tell, but even if an injured employee met the intractable pain definition, other factors may render the employee an incompatible candidate for medical cannabis use. As cautioned by the commissioner, if a patient presents with a personal or family history of psychosis, a medical provider should proceed carefully due to potential risks related to cannabis use.

The commissioner attempted to address generalized concerns with expanding the use of the medical cannabis law to another category of patients by reminding citizens of the numerous provisions of Minnesota’s law, one of the most restrictive medical cannabis laws in the country, to help minimize the potential for abuse. Medical cannabis in Minnesota is limited in form to pill, liquid or vapor — smoking marijuana is not a permissible treatment form. Also, Minnesota’s program is limited to only two medical cannabis manufacturers, with strong process controls and security measures.

We can expect to see much more about the efficacy and outcomes of medical cannabis treatment as the Minnesota law continues its first year of implementation. The Minnesota Department of Health has promised regular collection of data on the intractable pain patient population under the law, which it will share with the public.

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