The Health Department of Minnesota announced last December that people from Minnesota who suffer from autism and obstructive sleep apnea would finally be able to be a part of the state medical marijuana program, starting this July. Along with the addition of these conditions on the program, Health Commissioner Dr. Ed Ehlinger also announced a state and public citizen review of medical researchers.
This announcement was well received by many Minnesotans, including Victoria Grancarich whose son suffers from autism. The mother received the news with tears of joy said her son had become extremely violent with himself and others. The 14-year-old boy was hospitalized three times after beating his head, “Basically, the hospital sent him home last January to die,” said Grancarich.
Victoria’s son, who is nonverbal, has been suffering from extreme pain and discomfort and the autism medications haven’t been working. Luckily, the boy’s primary care doctor agreed to recommend him medical marijuana since the teen already suffered from two other qualifying conditions on the list: inflammatory bowel disease and seizures. According to his mother, within some weeks he was healthy enough to go back to school.
Minnesota’s medical marijuana program has a list of 13 qualifying conditions thus far, and was the fourth state in the U.S. to approve autism in the list of qualifying conditions for medical marijuana. Besides autism and sleep apnea, which will be effective by July of 2018, the list of conditions includes amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), cancer with pain, nausea or vomiting, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, terminal illness, Tourette syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease (including Crohn’s disease), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), seizures (including epilepsy), severe muscle spasms and multiple sclerosis.
Although advocates have been asking for the DOH of Minnesota to add 10 more conditions like anxiety and dementia, Ehlinger chose autism and sleep apnea because of the “increasing evidence for potential benefits.” Justifying the DOH choice, Ehlinger said, “any policy decisions about cannabis are difficult due to the relative lack of published scientific evidence.”
Stories like Grancharic’s son and other children who suffer from autism seemed to have a significant persuasive impact on the department’s choice since there hasn’t been a big change on the evidence for treating autism with medical cannabis.
Ever since 2015, the Minnesota medical marijuana program is known for being a very restricted and controlled program. With two distributors to deliver medical cannabis to qualified patients, they are allowed to buy medical cannabis only in the forms of liquids and pills. Advocates tried to add edibles and other smoked types of marijuana, but were unfortunately denied by Ehlinger.
There are more than 7,000 registered patients in Minnesota’a program and around 1,000 practitioners by now. State officials have no statistics on how many people will look for treatment of autism and sleep apnea with medical marijuana, but 1 in 68 children has autism, and 1 in 20 people has sleep apnea severe enough to cause consequences on a person’s daily life.
The news about the addition of autism to the list of conditions overjoyed Grancharich. Even though her son already uses medical marijuana for treating his secondary conditions, many children who have autism and don’t have secondary conditions can now access medical marijuana too. Grancharich had to confine her younger daughter in another room at the time her son was being more violent and said, “Now we can be in the same room together, we can sit together, we can hug again.”