The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) will add Alzheimer’s disease as a new qualifying condition for the state’s medical cannabis program. Under state law, the new condition will take effect in August 2019.

“Any policy decisions about cannabis are difficult due to the relative lack of published scientific evidence,” says Minnesota Commissioner of Health Jan Malcolm, in a release. “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.”

As in years past, MDH used a formal petitioning process to solicit public input on potential qualifying conditions. Throughout June and July, Minnesotans submitted petitions to add qualifying conditions. Following this petition period, the process included public comments and a citizens’ review panel. MDH staff also prepared a set of documents summarizing the available research pertaining to the use of medical cannabis for each prospective condition.

Petitioners put forward seven conditions this year: Alzheimer’s disease, hepatitis C, juvenile idiopathic arthritis, opioid use disorder, panic disorder, psoriasis and traumatic brain injury. After reviewing the research summaries and other input, Commissioner Malcolm approved Alzheimer’s disease.

Alzheimer’s disease is a neurodegenerative disorder that mainly affects elderly people. It is the most common cause of dementia. Other symptoms include cognitive impairment, delusion, depression, and agitation. The MDH research brief cited two available studies, which found that after cannabis use some patients saw improvements in disruptive nighttime behaviors and agitation.

Under current state rules, patients certified to have Alzheimer’s disease will become eligible to enroll in the program on July 1, 2019, and receive medical cannabis from the state’s two medical cannabis manufacturers beginning Aug. 1, 2019. As with the program’s other qualifying conditions, patients will need advance certification from a Minnesota health care provider.

When the 2014 Minnesota Legislature authorized the creation of a medical cannabis program, the law included a set of 9 conditions qualifying a person to receive medical cannabis. State rules direct the commissioner of health to consider each year whether to add other qualifying conditions and delivery methods. The current list of qualifying conditions includes:

  • 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