Pubdate: Mon, 03 Dec 2018
Source: Minneapolis Star-Tribune (MN)
Copyright: 2018 Star Tribune
Author: Jeremy Olson


The Minnesota Department of Health is adding the degenerative
neurological disorder to its cannabis program, which includes cancer
pain, epileptic seizures, PTSD and autism. Research is limited, but
findings suggest that cannabis inhibits the formation of proteins
linked to memory loss and dementia.

Alzheimer's disease will be eligible for treatment with medical
marijuana in Minnesota starting next year, becoming the 14th health
condition certified by the state since the program began in 2015.

The Minnesota Department of Health announced Monday that it was adding
the degenerative neurological disorder to its cannabis program, which
already includes cancer pain, epileptic seizures, post-traumatic
stress disorder and autism.

While research on cannabis and Alzheimer's is limited, some studies
have found that marijuana inhibits the formation of tau proteins that
accelerate dementia and memory loss related to the disease.

"Any policy decisions about cannabis are difficult due to the relative
lack of published scientific evidence," said state Health Commissioner
Jan Malcolm. "However, there is some evidence for potential benefits
of medical cannabis to improve the mood, sleep and behavior of
patients suffering from Alzheimer's disease."

Seven conditions had been submitted this summer by advocacy groups to
a state medical marijuana advisory panel, but Malcolm added only
Alzheimer's. The others were hepatitis C, Juvenile Rheumatoid
Arthritis, Opioid Use Disorders, Panic Disorder, Psoriasis and
Traumatic Brain Injury.

Minnesota will now be among 15 states in which medical marijuana can
be used to treat Alzheimer's, according to the petition filed this
summer to add the condition as a qualifying condition.

Dr. William Orr, a Minneapolis-based geriatric psychiatrist, supported
the petition and argued that advanced Alzheimer's can lead to patients
becoming confused, aggressive and combative. Benzodiazepines and
narcotics can calm these patients, he wrote, but those drugs aren't
federally approved for the purpose and can cause severe, mood-altering
side effects.

"I believe that advanced dementia patients with tremendous anxiety,
restlessness, and pain will benefit" from medical marijuana, he wrote.
"Such patients are episodically distraught and become quickly angered
and paranoid of staff trying to help them due to their confusion and
inability to understand their circumstances."

The Minnesota Association of Geriatrics took a neutral position,
saying that cannabis to treat Alzheimer's was not well-studied, but
that it supported further research.

Minnesota's medical marijuana program started three years ago, with
two companies approved to distribute cannabis in liquid or pill form.
Patients seeking cannabis must obtain certification that they have
qualifying conditions. The state lists 1,391 doctors or other
practitioners in the state who are authorized to grant

The state also uses the program to launch research, because of the
limited evidence about the medical benefits of a drug that is
otherwise considered an illegal controlled substance that can impair
judgment and cause addiction. A state survey-based study earlier this
year found 60 percent of patients with chronic pain believed cannabis
was helping, and that 43 percent of their doctors agreed.

The state listed 12,207 patients in its active medical marijuana
registry this September, up from 7,007 a year earlier. The addition
last December of autism and sleep apnea to the list of qualifying
conditions did not fuel the increase. Only 396 people with either of
those conditions were registered this September.

Most registered people reported intractable pain, a condition added in
2016. The 7,917 people with that condition made up 65 percent of the
registry. PTSD and muscle spasms were the next most common conditions.

How much the addition of Alzheimer's will increase the registry is
unclear. The Alzheimer's Association estimates that 94,000 people in
Minnesota have the disease. Alzheimer's was the principal cause of
2,220 deaths in the state in 2016.
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MAP posted-by: Matt