Illinois' new medical marijuana program would cover thousands, perhaps millions, more patients under expansive recommendations that an advisory board agreed to Monday.
Osteoarthritis alone affects roughly 1.5 million people in Illinois. It is one of 11 conditions approved by a board made up of doctors, nurses, patients and a pharmacist. At a public meeting in Chicago, the board also recommended migraine, neuropathy and post-traumatic stress disorder be added to the list of qualifying conditions, but not anxiety or diabetes.
The state Department of Public Health will consider the recommendations.
Board member Jim Champion, who is a military veteran, announced the board's unanimous approval for adding PTSD, saying he was "very, very proud."
Most experts agree that the evidence on marijuana and PTSD is limited to anecdotal reports from people who say the drug helps them. Meanwhile, gold-standard research has been stymied by federal barriers.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs states on its website that there is "no evidence at this time that marijuana is an effective treatment for PTSD. In fact, research suggests that marijuana can be harmful to individuals with PTSD."
The most rigorous trial yet of marijuana for PTSD is on track to begin this summer.
"I finally starting listening to the vets," said Dr. Sue Sisley, an Arizona psychiatrist and a co-investigator on the study, who came to Chicago Monday to speak at the meeting. "I finally started hearing their stories and learning from them how they were successful using the (marijuana) plant to manage their symptoms."
Sisley and her colleagues plan to recruit 76 veterans with PTSD for a randomized controlled trial of smoked marijuana. The trial has approval from the Food and Drug Administration. The Colorado Board of Health recently approved a nearly $2.2 million grant. But the researchers still need the Drug Enforcement Administration to sign off.
The Illinois board also voted to add diabetic neuropathy, a complication of diabetes that causes tingling and pain, to the list of qualifying maladies. It rejected diabetes, though, because marijuana can stimulate appetite and diabetics must watch what they eat.
Anxiety was rejected as too broad a category. Leslie Mendoza Temple, a suburban Chicago physician and the board's chair, invited future petitioners to narrow their definition of anxiety. The board will accept another round of petitions to add conditions and disease in July.
The Illinois law already lists dozens of conditions and diseases that can qualify a patient to use medical marijuana with a doctor's signature, including cancer, glaucoma, HIV, hepatitis C and multiple sclerosis. The law already included rheumatoid arthritis.
Qualifying patients pay an annual fee of $100 for a marijuana card and need a doctor's written certification. So far, just 2,000 people have completed the paperwork and received approval letters from the state.
Marijuana business owners, who are building the first growing facilities in many Illinois cities, welcomed the recommendations.
The board "clearly listened carefully to the petitioners and experts who provided testimony," said Bradley Vallerius, spokesman for Revolution Enterprises, the new business name of ICC Holdings, which has construction crews at work erecting 75,000-square-foot grow facilities in the cities of Barry and Delavan. "We urge the health department to act expeditiously and to finalize the process of approving these conditions so that patients suffering from them can obtain medicine."