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Sensible Minnesota: Using Medical Cannabis for Chronic Pain

Minnesota Medical Marijuana
Photo by Gracie Malley

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Sensible Minnesota: Using Medical Cannabis for Chronic Pain

As states grapple with the re-integration of medical cannabis into the physician’s compendium, there are hundreds of small dramas being played out all across the nation, indeed all around the globe. Many go unreported except for local coverage. The process isn’t as sexy as tie-dyed hippies with mammoth bongs and glazed expressions so it is not deemed “newsworthy.”  Too bad because there is plenty of drama being made… you just have to know where to look and be patient as the pieces fall into place.

Minnesota is a case in point. The state passed a medical cannabis law in May 2014 but intractable pain was not among the medical conditions listed for inclusion unless it was a symptom of cancer or terminal illness. Groups like Sensible Minnesota and private individuals almost immediately began to lobby for inclusion of intractable pain. The law gives the state commissioner of health the authority to include “other conditions” and so the Office of Medical Cannabis (OMC) set out to study the situation.

This is nothing new. These scenes have played out across the country. But Minnesota should be commended for the way in which it conducted the study. The transparency was refreshing and the results, for those who take the time to review them, provide a microcosm of cannabis and chronic pain issue.

The OMC held hearings, of course, but they also solicited written comment which has been compiled in an online PDF booklet entitled “Public Comment on Adding Intractable Pain as a Qualifying Condition for the Minnesota Medical Cannabis Program.” OK, it may not sound like a page-turner but if you are interested in medical cannabis it is a pretty good read. The majority of the comments (388 out of 417) were favorable to adding intractable pain to the list of qualifying conditions and the majority of those 388 (35 percent or 136 responders) stated they would like legal access to cannabis “as an option.”  This is interesting because it implies that at least some of these responders have not yet tried cannabis.  As one individual rather succinctly stated, “All I want is to try medical cannabis.”

Others were more explicit and to the point:

“I went to the meeting in hopes of hearing there might be a chance to get the option to try this treatment, but all I saw were a lot of very desperate people, like me. If there is a chance, even a slight chance this marijuana treatment could offer some relief to so many suffering so much. I beg you to give us the option to do so.”

Ironically, at the same time these public hearings were taking place, the state’s eight-member Intractable Pain Advisory Panel voted against inclusion of medical cannabis for intractable pain. The Minnesota Star Tribune reported that the panel expressed concern “that patients eligible to use medical cannabis for pain have expectations that it would provide total relief and that such a perception may” lead patients to abandon conventional therapies. But there was no evidence of that in the comments to the OMC. Most patients seemed to be looking for additional help.

I think that intractable chronic pain should be considered as a condition worthy of prescription components of marijuana. It should be a treatment alongside of physical and occupational therapies, chiropractic, opioids and over-the-counter meds.

Of course there were those who have used cannabis for pain and, not surprising, their testimony was positive, including some from healthcare workers:

“I have a patient who suffered from a spinal cord injury and they treated him with narcotics. The pain level was only slightly reduced, but he started to have such bowel problems… He turned to using marijuana. He is able to control the pain and not suffer any side effects that he is aware of.”

The report is also scrupulous in its presentation of those commentators against the inclusion of cannabis for chronic pain. Their responses are predictable (“marijuana is addictive,”  concern about teenager use, etc.) and is very balanced in presenting the information without any appearance of “taking sides.” This makes the document a valuable tool to reformers who are seeking to expand their own state law or wanting to include chronic pain in pending legislation.

In the end the state commissioner of health decided to include intractable pain and his recommendations became effective on July 1, 2016.

Minnesota is also tracking the state’s medical cannabis program via surveys and released a report in May 2016 entitled, “Early Results of Office of Medical Cannabis Surveys.” The document contains interesting data that can be very helpful to reformers and patients in other states. The executive summary begins, “The Minnesota Medical Cannabis Program is unique from other state programs in its intention to learn from the experience of its participants.”

Unique indeed and it should serve as a roadmap for other states. Medical cannabis is not rocket science. Cannabis is perhaps the safest therapeutic agent available. Research in laboratories is all well and good but the best clinicians, and bureaucrats, are those who listen to the patient.  Minnesota is doing a good job of that.

Do you treat chronic pain with cannabis? Tell us about your experiences.



  1. Patricia Descafano

    October 26, 2016 at 8:47 am

    I have used Cannabis for chronic right shoulder pain post op Glenoid Laberial tear and Rotator Cuff tear surgery done in March 2008. I too was caught up in that fierce cycle of having chronic pain that visited me daily and needing opioids to help ease my pain. More so just recently, I have use Cannabis for my pain because the epidemic that exists with narcotic addiction and the sigma that is attached to opioids. The last time I asked my primary MD to prescribe me pain medication she looked at me reluctantly with that concern look too. I told her I just need it to help me get started in my therapy treatment for the first few days so my pain would at least calm down and then I would switch to Ibuprofen once I was able to calm down my stabbing pain that flared up when I started working out. She gave me the prescription. When I went to the pharmacy to get it filled out I was asked for my drivers license and they made a copy of it and I went into a data base to be tracked as a possible addict. To me, I felt like I was a criminal. Cannabis helps with my pain when I need it. I don’t use it daily but when I do use it it helps me immensely. Because I live in a state the has recreational Cannabis laws in place I don’t have to worry anymore about asking for pain medication anymore. I use it carefully and wisely. I am relieved I don’t have to go through that process anymore of feeling like I am being tracked and thought of as an addict in the Federal/State tracking system. With the grace of God therefore I go peacefully with a lot less pain. This plant was brought to this earth for a reason. No one needs to suffer needlessly anymore. Just to mention all the other diseases Cannabis is treating today. It’s time…our time.

  2. Walter White

    September 17, 2016 at 5:21 pm

    yes i have chronic pain from a head injury in 2012 and have been on lots of meds of no effect and to be told its untreatable. i have used weed especially skunk for the pain. it sure beats the venlafaxine tablets im on

  3. Lawrence Goodwin

    September 12, 2016 at 6:05 pm

    Excellent article, Alice O’Leary-Randall. Thanks for the effort. The programs in both Minnesota and New York were modeled on each other in early 2014. A huge story also needs to be told in the substantial behind-the-scenes influence of Dr. Kyle Kingsley, the founding executive of Minnesota Medical Solutions and Vireo Health New York. It is not possible for Dr. Kingsley to have just emerged from the shadows to be given this golden opportunity by governors and legislators in 2 rather large states to “recreate the wheel” for medical cannabis, to make it somehow more legitimate in a medical setting (as if California, Colorado, Oregon and other western states had failed to do so over the last 20 years). Several months ago, local news reports made it clear that Vireo Health New York was being investigated for potentially severe violations of federal interstate drug-trafficking laws. In a last-minute dash to meet NY’s January 2016 deadline for having medical cannabis products available to patients, Vireo Health allegedly smuggled some cannabis oils from MN to NY. If anyone wants to know why or how that story was swept under the rug, they could start by asking NY Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Meanwhile, all along, Dr. Kingsley himself (much like Cuomo) has openly despised millions of “cannabis enthusiasts,” those who enjoy it recreationally, and for that reason he pushed the idea that MN and NY should be the first 2 states to strictly prohibit medical patients from buying and smoking properly cut, dried and cured seedless female flower. It’s bad enough that we must endure tyrannical career bureaucrats and politicians, who think they understand cannabis plants better than millions of us do. Now we must also endure the whims of arrogant physicians, who probably care more about how millions they can amass in their bank accounts than they do about unfettered patient access to the whole range of cannabis products.

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