MDH adds coverage for sickle cell disease, motor tic disorder under medical cannabis program

This May 20, 2019 file photo shows a mature marijuana plant beginning to bloom under artificial lights at Loving Kindness Farms in Gardena, Calif. Photo: Richard Vogel/Associated Press. This May 20, 2019 file photo shows a mature marijuana plant beginning to bloom under artificial lights at Loving Kindness Farms in Gardena, Calif.

Josh Skluzacek
Updated: December 01, 2020 11:04 AM
Created: December 01, 2020 10:59 AM

Minnesotans with sickle cell disease or chronic vocal disorder, also known as motor tic disorder, will soon be able to participate in the state's medical cannabis program.

The Minnesota Department of Health on Tuesday announced it was adding the two to its qualifying conditions list for the program. They will officially be added to the list beginning in August 2021. Patients with sickle cell disease or chronic motor/vocal tic disorder will be eligible to enroll in Minnesota's medical cannabis program starting on July 1, 2021. Registration is available online.

MDH conducts a formal petitioning process to solicit public input on potential qualifying conditions each year, and then moves the process to a public review panel.

Sickle cell disease can cause severe pain and affects mainly Black and African American people, MDH said.

"Giving sickle cell patients a more direct pathway into the medical cannabis program will permit them a non-opioid option to manage their pain," MDH Commissioner Jan Malcolm said.

While Tourette's syndrome is already covered under the program, MDH said vocal or motor tic disorder is distinct from Tourette's syndrome. Evidence from Tourette's patients indicates medical cannabis can effectively treat tics.

"This change will allow people who have either vocal or motor tics to participate in Minnesota’s medical cannabis program," Malcolm said.

MDH also considered a petition for anxiety — the third time petitions for anxiety has been submitted for the program — but ultimately denied it. However, Malcolm said MDH will conduct a deeper look at anxiety in 2021.

"Anxiety is a broad term for a group of specific disorders," Malcolm said. "We want to dig into specific anxiety disorders more and move forward carefully. The large number of patient testimonials submitted during the petition process tells us there is something there. However, we want to avoid unintended consequences – there is evidence that cannabis use can actually contribute to and make anxiety worse for some people."

The state's cannabis program initially covered nine conditions when created by the Minnesota Legislature. It has now grown to 15 conditions. The full list is as follows:

  • Cancer associated with severe/chronic pain, nausea or severe vomiting, or cachexia or severe wasting.
  • Glaucoma.
  • Tourette’s syndrome.
  • Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).
  • Seizures, including those characteristic of epilepsy.
  • Severe and persistent muscle spasms, including those characteristic of multiple sclerosis.
  • Inflammatory bowel disease, including Crohn’s disease.
  • Terminal illness, with a probable life expectancy of less than one year.
  • Intractable pain.
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder.
  • Autism spectrum disorders.
  • Obstructive sleep apnea.
  • Alzheimer’s.
  • Chronic pain.

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