Employee & Community Health

Learn the latest about medical marijuana 

10/17/2019 by Sonya Peters, PA-C

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Although prescribing medical marijuana has been legal in Minnesota since July 2015, ask most people what they know about  it and they typically answer, "Not much." The answers to these frequently asked questions should update you on this new form of treatment. Remember, medical marijuana is not legal in all states; this information pertains only to Minnesota.

What conditions can be treated with medical marijuana?

In Minnesota, medical marijuana can be prescribed to treat: 

  • Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)
  • Anorexia due to HIV/AIDS
  • Chronic intractable pain
  • Crohn's disease
  • Epilepsy or seizures
  • Glaucoma (the American Academy of Ophthalmology doesn't recommend medical marijuana)
  • Severe and persistent muscle spasms, including those characteristic of multiple sclerosis
  • Nausea, vomiting or severe wasting associated with cancer treatment
  • Terminal illness
  • Tourette Syndrome
  • Obstructive sleep apnea
  • Autism
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Alzheimer's disease

Are there side effects?

Short- and long-term effects include:

  • Addiction, which occurs in about 10% of users who start smoking marijuana before age 25
  • Breathing problems for people who smoke marijuana
  • Dizziness
  • Impaired concentration and memory
  • Increased heart rate
  • Increased risk of heart attack or stroke
  • Mental illness in people with a tendency for it
  • Negative drug-to-drug interactions
  • Slower reaction times
  • Withdrawal symptoms

Does it work?

While medical marijuana is still considered experimental, since becoming legal in 33 states and the District of Columbia, more studies are being conducted on its effectiveness. The evidence is still sparse due to issues of the legality of medical marijuana; it's legal at the state level but not at the federal level. Studies support marijuana being "possibly effective" at treating symptoms from multiple sclerosis and neuropathy. There's insufficient evidence to rate the effectiveness of marijuana to treat ALS, cachexia (weakness and wasting from chronic disease), chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting, Crohn's Disease, glaucoma, HIV/AIDs wasting, Parkinson's disease, and rheumatoid arthritis. Most of the information on effectiveness is from subjective patient reports of improvement or objective improvement in case studies. At this time, there isn't a wealth of good randomized control trials (RCTs). 

What do I have to do to be treated with medical marijuana?

Start by having a conversation with your health care provider to determine if medical marijuana might be right for you. Your provider will review all treatment options for your condition and provide recommendations on the best treatment options for you. If medical marijuana is the chosen treatment option, the provider will certify that you have a qualifying condition with the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH). In order to do this, they will need your email address, which is how you will be contacted with instructions for you to register. You can find more details about the process on the MDH site. There's a $200 annual registration fee, although you may qualify for a reduced fee. 

Where will I get treatment?

You'll need to go to one of eight Cannabis Patient Centers in Minnesota; there's one in Rochester. At the center, a pharmacist will review your records and recommend a specific dosage and type of cannabis. 

How much does medical marijuana cost?

The cost for your prescription will vary based on the type, quantity and other factors. Currently, health insurance plans don't cover medical marijuana, so this will be an out-of-pocket expense for you. 

Where can I learn more?

For patients, these sites are good resources for information about medical marijuana:

For providers, you'll find the steps for registering patients for medical marijuana here

Sonya Peters, PA-C, is a physician assistant with Employee and Community Health's (ECH) Division of Community Internal Medicine (CIM) at Mayo Family Clinic Northwest. Her areas of special interest are women's health and procedural medicine.