HARTFORD, CT – The State Board of Physicians last week recommended adding four new debilitating conditions to Connecticut’s growing medical marijuana program.
The same board rejected adding three other conditions for various reasons.
The board voted to add muscular dystrophy to the medical marijuana program. It also voted to add neuropathic pain and/or spasticity associated with fibromyalgia, severe rheumatoid arthritis and post herpetic neuralgia also known as shingles to the adult the list of 22 conditions already approved for medical marijuana prescriptions.
The vote to add shingles to the list came after hearing compelling testimony from Regina Walsh of New Canaan, who told the panel her 95-year-old father, George Walsh, a retired U.S. Navy officer, suffered from the disease.
She described her father as “incredibly active,” but that he had not responded to any other medications to treat his shingles and he was in “constant nerve pain.”
The panel rejected adding atopic dermatitis, osteoarthritis and severe COPD/emphysema to the list. The reasoning, in general, was that there wasn’t enough evidence that medical marijuana was the only or the best medicinal treatment for those conditions.
Panel member Dr. Mitchell Prywes, medical director for pain rehabilitation at Danbury Hospital, seemed to speak for all the board members when he said: “These are all debilitating conditions. They all share similar constellation of symptoms for which potentially cannabis can be of some value.
“But to pin it down and with the difficulty of making the diagnosis…it just makes our job a lot harder,” Prywes said, in deciding which diseases deserved medical marijuana treatment and which do not.
There are currently 15,115 medical marijuana patients, 593 physicians registered to certify patients, 22 conditions approved for adults, and 6 conditions approved for patients under the age of 18. There are nine dispensaries licensed to dispense medical marijuana across the state.
Department of Consumer Protection Commissioner Jonathan A. Harris said the program is “growing, maturing every single day.”
Harris said the medical marijuana program “is another good, health care choice for people suffering from some real serious diseases.”
The Board of Physicians meets at least twice a year to consider petitions to add new conditions to the list of conditions that qualify for the palliative use of marijuana.
Members of the public may petition the board. After a public hearing, the board gives a recommendation to the commissioner of DCP.
If the board recommends that a condition be added and the commissioner agrees, condition additions will then go through the formal regulation process, which includes a period for public comment and review by the legislative Regulations Review Committee.
“Today’s hearing (and recommendations) will be the first step we take in considering these new conditions as additions to the program. Our program is one of the most secure in the country, and we take the process by which conditions are added very seriously,” Harris said.
Connecticut legalized medical marijuana for adults in 2012. There are eight operating dispensaries in the state and a ninth, located in Milford, slated to open shortly.
In the past legislative session, a bill became law giving children under the age of 18 access to non-smokeable medical marijuana. The new law, which went into effect last Oct. 1, gives minors with severe epilepsy and terminal illnesses access to marijuana after the approval of two doctors.
Physicians may certify that a particular patient has been diagnosed with a disease that makes the patient eligible for the palliative use of marijuana and, based on a medically reasonable assessment of the patient’s medical history and medical condition, the potential benefits to the patient from the palliative use of marijuana would likely outweigh the health risks.
Additionally, the maximum allowable monthly amount is 2.5 ounces unless a physician indicates a lesser amount is appropriate.
There are also proposed bills in this legislative session to legalize recreational marijuana, which was recently done in nearby Massachusetts. Proponents says the state is in need of the tax dollars legalization would bring in.