Pubdate: Sat, 19 Oct 2019
Source: Chicago Tribune (IL)
Copyright: 2019 Chicago Tribune Company
Author: Rober McCoppin


The medical marijuana program in Illinois is seeing record growth
since changes in the law greatly expanded the program and made it
easier for patients to participate.

More than 87,000 patients have qualified for the program since stores 
opened in November 2015 - including a spike of almost 37,000 in the fiscal 
year ending June 30, a 93% increase, according to state records. The surge 
of new patients exceeds the number signed up in any previous fiscal year, 
based on the latest annual report on medical cannabis by the Illinois 
Department of Public Health.

The number of patients has continued to climb, according to the
state's monthly reports, since the state dropped requirements for
patient fingerprints and criminal background checks in 2018, and added 11 
new qualifying illnesses in August including common conditions such as 
chronic pain, migraines and arthritis.

Retail sales exceeded $22 million in September alone, almost evenly
split between cannabis flower and concentrates and infused products.

The figures are encouraging for entrepreneurs who hope to sell
recreational cannabis once it becomes legal Jan. 1. Adult use by the
public is expected to become far more common, with one study for the
state estimating more than 900,000 users.

The annual state report, which includes data through June, sheds
further light on the growth and demographics of the medical cannabis

Since becoming legal as a qualifying condition for medical marijuana
in 2016, post-traumatic stress syndrome has become by far the most
common condition cited by patients.

More than 8,600 patients were certified by doctors as having PTSD,
followed by severe fibromyalgia, spinal cord disease, and cancer as
the most common conditions.

The two most popular conditions act as umbrella terms for a variety of 
conditions, patients and industry experts said. PTSD serves as a
catchall for mental health conditions that are not on the list of
qualifying conditions, such as anxiety or depression, while
fibromyalgia can act as a stand-in for chronic pain, which was not
previously a qualifying condition.

Army veteran Jim Champion has multiple conditions that qualify for
medical marijuana, including multiple sclerosis and osteoarthritis,
but some days, he said, his fibromyalgia is worst of all.

"It is awful," he said. "It sends sharp pains through my neck and
shoulders. Sometimes I just want to chop off my arms it hurts so bad. It 
can be completely debilitating."

The one thing that helps, he said, are medical marijuana edibles.
"That fixes me right up, more than any of the pills the Veterans
Administration used to give me," he said.

A study published in June in the Journal of Clinical Medicine found
that cannabis was a safe and effective treatment for more than half of the 
367 patients treated.

Jim and his wife, Sandy, were instrumental advocates in getting
Illinois' medical cannabis law passed, and in expanding access to it. Jim 
was a member of the state's Medical Cannabis Advisory Board until it was 
disbanded as part of a political deal to add post-traumatic stress 
disorder as a qualifying condition in 2016.

People with medical conditions like fibromyalgia, a disorder known for 
widespread pain, fatigue and mood effects, share information, and that can 
lead more patients to come forward seeking help, Dr. Leslie Mendoza Temple 
said. Patients are required to get a doctor's
certification that they have a qualifying condition, and doctors must 
document any health problem cited, said Mendoza Temple, medical
director of integrative medicine for NorthShore University Healthcare, who 
has certified some 400 patients.

"I'm getting more and more interest," she said. "It's bringing out
people looking for relief."

Cannabis doesn't work for all patients, and some take too much and
have bad experiences, as with any drug, she said. Now that chronic
pain is a qualifying condition, she said, people may no longer need to 
cite fibromyalgia.

In addition to the existing medical marijuana program, the new Opioid 
Alternative Pilot Program, which started early this year, allows patients 
to obtain medical marijuana in place of prescription
painkillers. It has registered an additional 2,200 new patients - most of 
them for joint, back or neck pain - with another 1,000 awaiting physician 
certification, the state report found.

The number of patients seeking to replace opioids is relatively small in 
part, industry members said, because physician certification of patients 
lasts only 90 days, compared with regular patient certifications of one to 
three years.

Also this year, the state began issuing provisional access
registration cards to let patients and their caregivers buy medical
cannabis while their applications are being processed.

In August 2019, the state added 11 new qualifying conditions,
including chronic pain, migraines, anorexia nervosa and autism, but
the report only covered the state's fiscal year through June 30, so
did not include those conditions.

Since sales began in November 2015, the medical cannabis program in
Illinois has had about $200 million in wholesale sales, and $364
million in retail sales - a markup of about 76%, which has increased
with greater demand this year.

About 4,500 physicians certified patients for medical cannabis in the most 
recent fiscal year. Most certified fewer than 25 patients, but 58 
physicians certified more than 100 patients each. One unidentified 
physician submitted certifications for patients to substitute cannabis for 
opioids more than 1,000 times.

Most of the patients - 55% - were 50 years old or older. The number of 
patients was distributed fairly evenly across all age ranges, though those 
under 30 made up only 11 percent of patients. The number of men and women 
was split almost evenly, with slightly more women participating.

Geographically, not surprisingly, Cook County, the state's most
populous county, had the most patients by far with 17,587, followed by the 
collar counties and Winnebago County, where Rockford is located. One-third 
of the counties had 60 patients or fewer.

Of 21 licensed operating cultivation centers and 55 licensed medical
cannabis dispensaries in Illinois, the most popular by far was the
Clinic Mundelein, with 2,550 patients, followed by Dispensary 33 in
Chicago's Uptown neighborhood, EarthMed in Addison, 3C Compassionate
Care Center in Naperville, and Moca Modern Cannabis in Chicago's Logan 
Square -all in or near relatively affluent areas.

Linda Marsicano, a spokeswoman for Green Thumb Industries, which
operates the Clinic Mundelein and 3C, credited their patient care
specialists for providing personalized service and public education.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Matt