Minnesota Alzheimer’s Patients Can Now Register for Medical Marijuana

On July 1, Alzheimer’s patients can begin registering for Minnesota’s medical cannabis program. Registered patients can purchase cannabis starting August 1.
Minnesota Alzheimer's Patients Can Now Register for Medical Marijuana
Vinicius Tupinamba/ Shutterstock

Starting July 1, people with Alzheimer’s disease can register for medical marijuana in Minnesota. And once registered, they’ll be able to obtain medical cannabis from the state’s two manufacturers beginning August 1. The Minnesota Department of Health first announced plans to add Alzheimer’s disease as a qualifying condition in December 2018. Alzheimer’s disease is the only qualifying condition Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm approved after a citizen’s review panel proposed adding seven new conditions, including opioid use disorder and traumatic brain injury.

Minnesota now has 14 conditions that qualify patients for medical marijuana. And with the addition of Alzheimer’s disease, Minnesota joins a trend of U.S. states moving to expand their medical cannabis programs to include the neurodegenerative disorder that afflicts nearly 6 million Americans.

Minnesota Alzheimer’s Patients Can Purchase Medical Marijuana in August

Over the next 30 days, the Minnesota Department of Health will be working to register Alzheimer’s patients to the state’s five-year-old medical marijuana program. The health department requires patients to advance certify before they can obtain medical cannabis, and details on the process are available on its medical cannabis website.

The addition of Alzheimer’s disease could grow Minnesota’s medical marijuana program substantially. According to Department of Health data, there were 15,687 patients actively registered as of March 31. But there are more than 94,000 people living with Alzheimer’s disease in Minnesota, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. And access to legal, regulated medical cannabis products won’t just benefit them. There are more than 254,000 family and friends proving care for loved ones with Alzheimer’s in the state. And researchers say cannabis can make taking care of people with Alzheimer’s easier.

Alzheimer’s is the most common cause of dementia in elderly people. It’s a neurodegenerative disorder that causes cognitive impairments, delusion, depression and agitation, and there is no known cure. But studies show that cannabis, in particular the CBD and THC cannabinoids it contains, could help manage the behavioral symptoms that reduce quality of life for Alzheimer’s patients and their caregivers.

More States Recognizing Cannabis as a Safe Treatment for Alzheimer’s Symptoms

And while no studies prove that cannabis or cannabis products can stop, slow, reverse or prevent Alzheimer’s, there are some exciting studies that suggest it is a possibility. One recent study found that micro-doses of THC slowed the production of the protein plaques scientists believe is a leading cause of dementia. Still, large, long-term studies on cannabis as an Alzheimer’s treatment are lacking.

But the absence of conclusive research on cannabis and Alzheimer’s didn’t prevent Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm from approving it as a qualifying condition for medical cannabis. “Any policy decisions about cannabis are difficult due to the relative lack of published scientific evidence,” Malcolm said. “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.”

There is also some evidence for the potential benefits of medical cannabis to improve symptoms for patients diagnosed with the six other conditions petitioners proposed be added to the list, like arthritis, opioid use disorder, panic and traumatic brain injury. States that have expanded their medical marijuana programs have generally included such conditions. But this year, Malcolm approved only Alzheimer’s disease for Minnesota, bringing the total up to 14 conditions on a list that has grown every year from its initial nine in 2014.

So starting today, Minnesota joins a number of recent U.S. states and territories, from Texas to New Mexico to Puerto Rico, moving to add Alzheimer’s disease as a qualifying condition.

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