Learn the latest about medical marijuana
8/31/2023 by Sonya Peters, P.A.-C.
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:
- Alzheimer's disease.
- Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).
- Autism spectrum disorder (must meet DSM-5).
- Chronic motor or vocal tic disorder.
- Chronic pain.
- Inflammatory bowel disease, including Crohn's disease.
- Intractable pain (pain whose cause cannot be removed and, according to generally accepted medical practice, the full range of pain management modalities appropriate for this patient has been used without adequate results or with intolerable side effects).
- Irritable bowel syndrome (effective Aug. 1, 2023).
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder (effective Aug. 1, 2023).
- Obstructive Sleep Apnea (only trial if typical treatments like CPAP have failed).
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
- Seizures, including those characteristic of epilepsy.
- Severe and persistent muscle spasms, including those characteristic of multiple sclerosis (MS).
- Sickle cell disease.
- Terminal illness, with a probable life expectancy of less than one year.*
- Tourette syndrome.
*If your illness or its treatment produces one or more of the following: Severe or chronic pain, nausea or severe vomiting, cachexia or severe wasting.
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.
- 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 (more likely with large doses of products with high THC content).
- Cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome (nausea, severe vomiting and abdominal pain that repeats every week or every few weeks).
Does it work?
While medical marijuana is still considered experimental, since becoming legal for medical use in 37 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 the role of cannabis/cannabinoids for pain, seizure disorders, appetite stimulation, muscle spasticity and treatment of nausea/vomiting. The biological activities of the cannabinoids suggest that they may be useful in the treatment of central nervous system disorders (such as neurodegenerative diseases, PTSD and addiction) or for the treatment of cancer. The data for those conditions is less robust. Most of the information on its 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.
What do I have to do to be treated with medical marijuana?
Start by having a conversation with your healthcare clinician to determine if medical marijuana might be right for you. Your clinician 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, your clinician 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 website. 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 fifteen 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?
These sites are good resources for information about medical marijuana:
- Mayo Clinic: Medical marijuana.
- Minnesota Department of Health: Medical cannabis.
- National Institutes of Health: Marijuana as medicine.
Sonya Peters, P.A.-C., is a physician assistant with Primary Care in Rochester and Kasson's Division of Community Internal Medicine, Geriatrics and Palliative Care at Mayo Family Clinic Northwest. Her areas of special interest are women's health and procedural medicine.