With the number of patients registered to use medical marijuana increasing 182 percent since the first dispensary opened last September, the state is on its way to adding more debilitating conditions to the list of 11 qualifying health issues.
Department of Consumer Protection Commissioner Jonathan Harris said the Medical Marijuana Program Board of Physicians has recommended the approval of seven conditions ranging from Lou Gehrig’s disease to severe psoriasis. After incorporating the changes into program regulation, he will submit a draft to the Office of the Attorney General for legal approval and to the public through a hearing. Harris said he expects the hearing to occur this fall.
The change would need its ultimate go-ahead from the legislature’s Regulations Review Committee, which Harris said will likely move on the issue during the first quarter of 2016.
“Time is of the essence and there are people suffering from these debilitating conditions. Their doctors should have medical marijuana in their toolkit to use if they want,” he said.
The Medical Marijuana Board of Physicians voted last week to recommend authorizing complex regional pain syndrome as an approved condition.
Harris said the specific, diagnosable condition results in pain that can be crippling and constant. It usually results from trauma to a limb.
According to Harris, the Board of Physicians has not yet received a petition for more general types of pain. But if one arrives – and it can be made either by a member of the public or the physician’s board itself – it will be taken into consideration according to the established protocol.
“We’ll review any petition with an open mind,” Harris said.
The board evaluates and votes on each petition based on three questions, according to regulations: Is the condition debilitating; is marijuana more likely than not to benefit the patient; and are there other relevant matters to consider.
The latest recommendation joins five other health issues to get the seal of approval from the medical board: Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, ulcerative colitis, post-laminectomy syndrome, severe psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis, and sickle cell disease. The group issued a split vote on Fabry disease, which left it up to Harris to break the tie. He voted to add the disease to the approved list.
The only failed petition so far was for Tourette syndrome, with was unanimously rejected by the physician’s board.
The petition for complex regional pain syndrome addressed this month included letters from patients and doctors describing it as among the most painful chronic pain conditions.
A pain medicine specialist from Rhode Island, whose name was redacted from the documents, said the pain can be more intense than the amputation of a digit, cancer pain, phantom limb pain and bone fractures. The physician said treatment usually consists of a minimally effective combination of anti-seizure medicine, anti-depressants and prescription painkillers.
The petition also included testimony from a retired doctor who began experiencing symptoms himself following surgery on his left foot in 2009.
“CRPS controls my life. The pain is excruciating,” he wrote. “I have no other option but to use strong opioids (Dilaudid) to get even minimum control.”
The affected doctor also cited an increased suicide rate among those with the condition. “Good medical studies have shown that CRPS sufferers have no more psychiatric diagnoses than normal before getting CRPS, but many suffer from depression and hopelessness after getting it,” he wrote.
Another medical professional included in the petition cited 25 years’ experience, of which 22 were spent in Connecticut. “In my career I have seen several patients commit suicide as a direct result of this terribly painful condition,” he said.
While he expressed skepticism that marijuana would do much to improve pain for those with complex regional pain syndrome, he endorsed the drug as a “reasonable means to allow for relaxation, sleep and muscle spasm reduction.” When used appropriately, it may be safer than other prescribed medications, he said.
There were 4,914 patients registered to purchase medical marijuana at the state’s six dispensaries as of July 23, according to meeting minutes of the phsyician’s board. The number represents an increase of approximately 400 patients per month. It is expected that there will be 6,000 registrants by the year’s end. The state has authorized the construction of three additional dispensaries to fill the burgeoning need in New Haven and Fairfield counties.