Pubdate: Sat, 02 Jul 2016
Source: Minneapolis Star-Tribune (MN)
Copyright: 2016 Star Tribune
Author: Jennifer Brooks


A year ago this weekend, little Harlow Hundley took her first dose of 
medical marijuana.

By the time her family gathered for their July 4th picnic, the little 
girl, then 3 years old and wracked by seizures that damaged her brain 
and endangered her life, was giggling and playing with her cousins 
"like she'd never done before," her mother told reporters Friday as 
she wiped away tears outside a downtown Minneapolis clinic.

It wasn't a cure, but Harlow's life is better now than it was a year 
ago. She suffers half as many seizures, even as they weaned her off 
the harshest medications she was taking. She plays with toys and 
interacts with people. She communicates with an adaptive iPad.

"It's meant so much to our family, because we've literally been able 
to see our daughter emerge before our eyes," Beth Hundley said, 
scrolling through a phone full of pictures of a sweet-faced little 
girl with soft brown curls, smiling for the camera.

The first year of legal medical marijuana in Minnesota has been 
marked by small miracles and deep frustrations. It's one of the 
smallest, most tightly regulated programs in the nation and has 
struggled with high prices, wary doctors and patients who have 
labored to get into the program and to find a nearby clinic once they do.

But enrollment has been inching upward, and the 1,588 patients now in 
the program could be joined next month by a wave of pain patients as 
the program expands to include intractable pain as a qualifying condition.

The state limits the conditions that qualify for medical marijuana - 
just nine right now - as well as the number of companies that can 
grow and sell the crop - two - and the number of clinics that can 
sell it - eight, scattered across a state of 5.4 million people. The 
Legislature also limited cannabis sales to pills and liquids, and 
smoking the plant remains illegal. Since doctors and medical groups 
can opt out of the program, some patients have struggled to find 
health care providers willing to confirm to the state that they have 
a qualifying condition like cancer, epilepsy or a terminal illness.

But for those who manage to make it in to the program,medical 
marijuana seems to be helping. A June survey by the Minnesota Health 
Department found that 90 percent of patients said they benefited from 
the medicine, and half of those surveyed reported substantial relief 
of their symptoms.

Paint treatment an option

A year ago, Patrick McClellan stood on the sidewalk outside the 
Minnesota Medical Solutions clinic in downtown Minneapolis, waiting 
for the stroke of midnight when the clinic opened for the first time. 
Today, he said, he has managed to wean off or cut back on the 
pharmaceuticals he was taking to ease agonizing muscle spasms brought 
on by a rare form of muscular dystrophy.

"My neurologist says I look better now than I have in the last 10 
years," said McClellan, who spent years lobbying for medical cannabis 
legalization. "When we first started this process three years ago, it 
was based on hope, but for a lot of us, that hope has turned to 
success, including [for] myself."

For the two companies that took multimillion-dollar gambles on the 
medical cannabis industry in Minnesota, it's been a bumpy start.

In Stillwater last weekend, Dr.AndrewBachman,anemergency room 
physician who cofounded the cannabis company LeafLine Labs, marked 
the program's anniversary by watching a little girl named Amelia 
cross the finish line of a 5K race his company sponsored to raise 
money for epilepsy research. After the race, Amelia, who has a strain 
of medical cannabis named in her honor at LeafLine, got out of her 
racing stroller and walked off hand-in-hand with her father-the first 
time Bachman had ever seen her walk.

"That's all I needed to know. That's all the motivation I needed for 
the next year," said Bachman, whose company has clinics in Eagan, St. 
Paul, St. Cloud and now in Hibbing, where Amelia lives. Her family 
had been making the hourslong commute to Eagan each month to pick up 
her prescription.

Smiling outside the Minneapolis clinic, Minnesota Medical Solutions 
CEO Dr. Kyle Kingsley, also a former emergency room physician, is 
looking forward to a new year with new customers brought in by the 
program's expansion to pain patients.

"Pretty exciting day," he said. The hope is that more pain patients 
in the medical marijuana program could mean fewer overdoses in the 
emergency room.

In many states that allow pain patients to use medical marijuana, 
those patients make up the bulk of the programs' customer base. In 
Colorado, 93 percent of medical marijuana patients cited "severe 
pain" as a qualifying condition. But many of those states have also 
charted sharp drops in opioid overdose deaths once cannabis became an 
option for pain treatment. One 2014 study found that opioid overdoses 
dropped an average 25 percent in states with medical marijuana programs.

Minnesota officials are quick to point out that marijuana isn't a 
magic bullet, is still experimental and doesn't help everyone who 
tries it. Patients also face the additional headache of trying to pay 
for treatments that can range from less than $100 a month to well 
over $1,000. No insurance will cover the cost of cannabis treatments 
while the drug remains illegal at the federal level, forcing patients 
to pay out of pocket.

But for families like the Hundleys, a few drops of cannabis oil will 
make all the difference this July 4th.

Harlow suffers from Dravet syndrome, a type of epilepsy that strikes 
healthy babies with catastrophic seizures that resist standard 
treatment. Water, sun and heat all used to trigger seizures in the little girl.

This July 4th, her mother said, they're hoping to go swimming.

"To see her enjoying life more, to be able to engage with people and 
toys like a typical 4-year-old, has been an absolute miracle," Beth 
Hundley said. "I pray that this can help more people."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom