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New York’s Medical Marijuana Program Expands to Include Chronic Pain Patients

New York’s Department of Health announced that it would soon draft an amendment to include chronic pain as a qualifying condition for the state’s medical marijuana program.

Chronic pain sufferers in New York will soon be able to get legal access to medical marijuana, after the New York State Department of Health announced it would be adding the ailment to the program’s list of qualifying medical conditions.

The Department said in a statement that it would develop a proposed regulatory amendment in the coming days and then publish it for public comment. The amendment will be open for public comment for 45 days before taking effect.

The Department’s decision came after an examination into the research indicating cannabis’ pain management efficacy. Studies have even found medical marijuana to be beneficial for reducing pain levels that had proven refractory to other traditional treatments.

“After conducting a thorough review of the scientific literature, it became clear that there may be certain benefits in the use of medical marijuana by patients suffering from chronic pain,” said New York Health Commissioner Howard Zucker. “Medical marijuana is already helping thousands of patients across New York State, and adding chronic pain as a qualifying condition will help more patients and further strengthen the program.”

The Department of Health also proposed enabling physician assistants to register to certify patients for medical marijuana, provided their supervising physician is already registered.

The state’s Department had previously filed regulatory amendments to allow nurse practitioners to recommend medical marijuana and those changes took effect November 30. Nurse practitioners interested in registering with the department must first take a department-approved Medical Use of Marijuana online course and submit their certificate of course completions.

New York’s medical marijuana program, legalized in 2014, currently allows non-smokable marijuana for the treatment of ten qualifying conditions, including cancer, HIV or AIDS, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, inflammatory bowel disease, neuropathies, Huntington’s disease, and damage to the nervous tissue of the spinal cord with objective neurological indication of intractable spasticity.

Due to stringent restrictions and a lack of qualifying conditions, New York’s medical marijuana program has struggled with enrolling sufficient numbers of patients. Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration has made it known they’re interested in overhauling the program. Adding chronic pain to the program’s list of acceptable conditions is expected to add thousands of more eligible patients. A Marijuana Business Daily report found that chronic and severe pain accounts for an estimated 64.2 percent of the qualifying conditions of registered medical marijuana patients nationwide.

“I think patients in New York deserve to run a victory lap over this,” said Kassandra Frederique, state director of the Drug Policy Alliance. “I think it is fair to say that this could affect thousands of patients in New York.”

With the opioid addiction and abuse claiming the lives of 44 Americans everyday, efforts have been made to encourage physicians to prescribe fewer prescription opioids and allow patients to more safely and effectively manage their pain with cannabis. Studies indicate that legal access to medical marijuana has the ability to reduce the intake of opioid painkillers.

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“I’d rather have individuals on medical marijuana than I do with opiates. There has not been one certified death from overdose of medical marijuana,” Dr. Laszlo Mechtler of DENT Neurological Institute told WGRZ.com. “I think this is an exciting time for medical marijuana to step in to decrease the addiction rate, to decrease the overdose, and help our patients and our athletes and our students who have chronic pain.”

As of November 29, 750 physicians had registered with the New York State Medical Marijuana Program, certifying 10,730 patients, according to the Health Department.

Learn more about the research into cannabis’ effects on chronic pain by visiting our Medical Marijuana Research Overview Page. Keep up with the cannabis in laws in New York through our education page.