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Minnesota adds PTSD to medical marijuana treatment

ST. PAUL—Minnesotans will be able to treat post-traumatic stress disorder with medical marijuana beginning next year.

State Health Commissioner Dr. Ed Ehlinger announced the addition on Thursday, Dec. 1, along with saying that he will allow topical applications of the drug, such as in patches and lotions. Until now, just oil and liquid forms of medical marijuana, officially known as medical cannabis, were allowed.

Ehlinger's two decisions take effect next August, giving medical professionals and marijuana sales companies time to prepare.

"We see an increased acceptance by the medical community" as education about it becomes available, Ehlinger said of using marijuana as a drug.

About 750 medical providers, mostly doctors, are involved in the program, about double that of a year ago.

More than 3,500 Minnesotans obtain medicine through the state program that began July 2, 2015.

With state law allowing the health commissioner to add new conditions the medicine can treat, Ehlinger said he decided to allow PTSD treatment after hearing from a citizens' advisory committee and talking to health-care professionals and officials in other states.

Compared to other medical conditions, there is more research on PTSD, he said.

However, there is relatively little research in marijuana being used as a medicine, he added. Part of the reason is it remains illegal under federal law.

With many PTSD patients are military veterans. Federal Veterans Administration facilities cannot certify or recommend patients to use medical cannabis.

Dr. George Komaridis, a Mankato clinical psychologist who works with PTSD patients, said he expects conflicts with the VA policy.

"The veteran, however, has the choice to go to any doctor he chooses," Komaridis said.

The doctor said he has seen patients who smoke marijuana, which is illegal, to help them "get through the day." It may help them sleep, too, Komaridis added.

Assistant Health Commissioner Gilbert Acevedo, a former VA doctor, said he does not know of any formal VA stance on medical marijuana, but some veteran service organizations help veterans find relief, regardless of VA policy.

Jeremy Wolfsteller of the state American Legion said "a good portion" of 80,000 veterans seen at the Minneapolis VA hospital suffer from PTSD.

Growers praise

The leader of one of two companies licensed to grow and sell medical marijuana praised the PTSD decision.

"“As a veteran of the Minnesota National Guard with a background in emergency medicine, it pains me to see so many veterans struggle with PTSD,” said CEO Dr. Kyle Kingsley of Minnesota Medical Solutions and Vireo Health. "“Today'’s decision offers new hope to an estimated 30,000 Minnesota veterans, as well as survivors of other traumatic and life-altering events, afflicted with PTSD.”"

While most Americans know PTSD involves military personnel, Ehlinger said others also are affected.

"One of the biggest (contributors to PTSD) is sexual assault..." the commissioner said. "Witnessing violence also can contribute to it."

While he could have added more conditions eligible for medical marijuana, Ehlinger said he did not see enough evidence that anything else would be well treated. Some Minnesotans proposed conditions such as diabetes, arthritis, autism, depression and insomnia be treated with medical marijuana.

Last year, Ehlinger added intractable pain to conditions cannabis can be used to treat. State law specifically allows medical cannabis to be used for some cancer cases, glaucoma, HIV-AIDS, Tourette Syndrome, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, some seizures, inflammatory bowel disease and illnesses with a probable life expectancy of less than a year.

Ehlinger's order to allow topical medications would help some patients, he said. It would allow lotions, patches, gels, creams and ointments.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.