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Minnesota adds autism, sleep apnea to medical marijuana list

One of the grow rooms at Minnesota Medical Solutions' Otsego greenhouse and laboratory hosts hundreds of plants in various stages of maturity. Robb Jeffries / Forum News Service

ST. PAUL — Autism and obstructive sleep apnea will be qualifying conditions for medical marijuana use in Minnesota next summer, the regulating state agency announced Thursday, Nov. 30.

Beginning July 1, 2018, patients with those conditions will be able to enroll in the state's medical marijuana program, with approved patients allowed to receive medical cannabis starting Aug. 1.

The conditions become the 12th and 13th qualifying conditions for the Minnesota Department of Health program that started in 2014.

The conditions were two of 10 submitted by petition to the agency for consideration this year. The petitioning process included a public comment period and a citizens' review panel.

"Any policy decisions about cannabis are difficult due to the relative lack of published scientific evidence," said Dr. Ed Ehlinger, Health Department commissioner. "However, there is increasing evidence for potential benefits of medical cannabis for those with severe autism and obstructive sleep apnea."

There is growing supporting research that shows cannabis can help treat autism symptoms, including clinical trials being conducted in Israel and New York, said Dr. Tom Arneson, research manager for the Health Department's Office of Medical Cannabis. A Health Department news release also said positive testimony from parents of autistic children in Minnesota already using medical cannabis for another condition played a factor in approving autism.

"Before medical cannabis, my 14-year-old autistic son self-harmed to the point of skull fractures and massive tissue damage," said Victoria Grancarich, of Minneapolis, in a news release. "But after using medical cannabis to treat his seizures, all of his self-injury and aggression stopped. The helmet was removed and my son was able to return to school and he is my happy, sweet boy again."

Arneson said a common treatment for obstructive sleep apnea, continuous positive airway pressure, is only tolerable for about half of patients. But, "if someone is able to use CPAP, then there is no reason for them to use cannabis."

Agency officials said they are unsure how many new patients the medical cannabis program will have with the two new qualifying conditions. As of Sept. 28, there were 7,022 active patients in the state's registry.

Qualified conditions

Beginning July 1, 2018, the Minnesota Department of Health will have 13 qualifying conditions for medical cannabis:

• Cancer associated with severe/chronic pain, nausea or severe vomiting, or cachexia or severe wasting.

• Glaucoma.

• HIV/AIDS.

• Tourette's syndrome.

• Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).

• Seizures, including those characteristic of epilepsy.

• Severe and persistent muscle spasms, including those characteristic of multiple sclerosis.

• Inflammatory bowel disease, including Crohn's disease.

• Terminal illness, with a probable life expectancy of less than one year.

• Intractable pain.

• Post-traumatic stress disorder.

• Autism spectrum disorders.

• Obstructive sleep apnea.

Robb Jeffries

Robb Jeffries is a news coordinator for Forum News Service. He is a graduate of the University of North Dakota and previously served as a reporter and copy editor for the Grand Forks Herald. Reach him at rjeffries@forumcomm.com and follow him on Twitter at @robbjeffries.

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