Stung by costs, some of Minnesota’s medical marijuana patients back to buying on streets

Just two months after Minnesota launched its medical marijuana program, some patients turned off by high costs say they are back to buying the drug illegally because it’s the only way they can afford it.

State officials and the companies hired to make marijuana products trumpeted the program’s medical approach _ pills and oils, no leaf products _ when it launched in July. But some patients say the highly restricted and regulated system is costing them hundreds or even thousands of dollars a month_ none of it covered by insurance.

Company executives defend their prices _ a small vial of marijuana extract can run nearly $130 in Minnesota, more than double the cost of a similar product in Colorado, where recreational marijuana is legal and they’ve sold it medically for more than a decade _ and say costs will fall over time. But they’re also taking steps to help some buyers, including raising money to cut the price for lower-income patients.

According to state data, nearly one in five of the 491 registered patients hadn’t returned to buy more medication in the last month, though state officials stress there are many possible explanations.

Patrick McClellan, who suffers crippling muscle spasms from muscular dystrophy, told The Associated Press that his monthly tab for oil for vaporizer pens _ one of the legal state-sanctioned treatments _ runs $264. He can get a month’s worth of marijuana buds on the street for $80, and mixes it in with as much of the state-approved medicine he can afford.

“That’s a car payment,” he said of his state bill. “What we’re talking about is an expensive designer drug that only the rich can afford right now.”

He’s not alone. Faced with an estimated $2,000 bill, Jonathan Holmgren is back to using the raw plant that the state still deems illegal to treat his Crohn’s disease. Darrell Paulsen can’t afford to pay up to $700 a month for a legal supply _ he, too, is relying on the black market to make the muscle spasms from cerebral palsy bearable.

Two other patients registered with the state told the AP they’ve reverted to buying marijuana on the streets because of cost, but asked that their names not be used due to fear of arrest.

There’s no shortage of success stories in the program’s first two months _ from parents saying they’ve watched their children’s epileptic seizures abate to patients talking about lives restored, free of pain.

But the return to illegal sources underscores some broader problems for Minnesota’s program.

Faced by stout opposition from law enforcement, state leaders approved one of the nation’s most restrictive guidelines: Leaf products aren’t allowed and the range of qualifying conditions is narrow. Oils and pills cost more to make, and the customer base is small. One manufacturer has already announced delays in opening some of the distribution centres outside the Minneapolis metro area and raised its prices.

State officials are weighing whether to allow people in chronic pain to register for medical cards next year _ a move that could trigger a massive wave of new patients and allow manufacturers to mass produce more cheaply.

Part of the price discrepancy with other states’ offerings is due to simple competition: Just two companies are allowed in Minnesota; Colorado has no such limit.

Dr. Kyle Kingsley, chief executive at manufacturer Minnesota Medical Solutions, acknowledged Minnesota’s prices are higher than some other states and said he sympathizes with the “small minority” of patients who have reverted to the black market.

“It breaks my heart that there are folks that are not able to access the program financially,” Kingsley said. “We’re busting our hump to make that right. It will improve over time.”

Both companies are setting up charitable arms to buy down patients’ medication, and already offer discounts to low-income patients.

But the prospect of future price cuts hasn’t come fast enough for Holmgren. After weeks working with Minnesota Medical Solutions to find the right treatment, the 33-year-old was left with a vial of oil that didn’t work as well as his illegal $400-a-month source _ and would have cost him $2,000 each month.

Holmgren said he’d much rather use the state-approved medicine than risk arrest, but the costs have to come down.

“It wouldn’t be as much distress in my life or other’s people lives. We could be legal,” he said.

The federal government might someday relax its stance on marijuana, meaning insurers could decide to cover it as medicine, but patients don’t expect that any time soon. And Sen. Scott Dibble, a sponsor of the law, said there’s likely no appetite in the Minnesota Legislature to reverse the law’s prohibition on allowing raw leaf.


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First Health Canada Approved Medical Cannabis Clinical Trial Starts Patient Recruitment

Source: CNW

Canada’s most well-established and reliable producer of medical cannabis, along with researchers at McGill University Health Centre and Dalhousie Universities, officially started patient engagement on June 23, 2015 on the CAPRI Trial (Cannabinoid Profile Investigation of Vaporized Cannabis in Patients with Osteoarthritis of the Knee), a randomized, double blind, placebo controlled, proof-of-concept, crossover clinical trial of single dose vaporized cannabis in adults with painful osteoarthritis of the knee.

2015-01-01-MedicalMarijuana_photoNot only was this clinical trial the first to be registered with Health Canada after the transition to the new Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations (MMPR), CAPRI will seek to understand the analgesic dose-response of several varieties of medical cannabis, consisting of varying concentrations of the two most common active ingredients: delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). It will also explore the short-term safety of vaporized cannabis as well as look at functional changes and patient preference.

“Anecdotal evidence supporting cannabis as a medicine is increasing, however this isn’t quite good enough for our patients,” said Brent Zettl, President and CEO of Prairie Plant Systems Inc. and CanniMed Ltd. “In order for medical cannabis to become a true medicine, it requires carefully conducted trials to provide hard data. It is our ongoing mission to support patients and their prescribing physicians with more research into the safety and efficacy of these cannabis based products to ensure predictable and standardized treatment options in the near future.”

The CAPRI Trial will be recruiting 40 patients suffering from serious osteoarthritis of the knee over the two trial sites in Montreal, QC and Halifax, NS. Patient recruitment starts today at the McGill University Health Centre, and Dalhousie University will begin to recruit patients shortly.

“This clinical trial significantly advances medical cannabis research in Canada,” said Dr. Mark Ware, CAPRI trial primary investigator and practicing pain physician at the McGill University Health Centre, and Executive Director of the Canadian Consortium for the Investigation of Cannabinoids (CCIC). “This research will help to start answering important questions physicians have regarding dosing as well as short term safety and efficacy related to specific ratios of cannabinoids.”

The body’s own pain-regulating system, called the endocannabinoid system, has receptors in nervous system tissue, immune cells, bone and joint tissue. These receptors respond to the cannabinoids found in medical cannabis, similar to how a key opens a lock. Research has demonstrated the short term efficacy of medical cannabis at reducing pain when used by itself or in combination with other pain-relievers, but comparisons between cannabinoid ratios have not been tested in clinical settings.

For the 4.6 million Canadians with arthritis, currently available medications are often inadequate or associated with unacceptable side effects. Research into new treatment options, including the potential therapeutic benefit of medical cannabis, is an important next step in determining options available to patients and their caregivers.

“We are very pleased to see that the CAPRI clinical trial is underway and beginning recruitment,” said Joanne Simons, chief mission officer, The Arthritis Society. “We know that many people living with arthritis seek alternative options for pain relief, including medical cannabis. Well-designed clinical research is a pre-requisite to get us to where we want to go: more treatment options available to help people manage the pain of arthritis.”

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