First Chronic Pain Patient Certified for Medical Marijuana in New York
Medical Marijuana was just approved to treat chronic pain in New York. Back in December 2016, the NYS department of health made the announcement that chronic pain would be added to the list of conditions that qualify to be treated with medical marijuana. Other qualifying conditions that cause pain include Neuropathy, Cancer, HIV/AIDS, Inflammatory Bowel Disease, Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson’s Disease and ALS.
Like many others, I was curious to know when it would be added. Some mistakenly thought it was immediate and I saw “Fake News” articles online stating it was already an approved condition. However, after calling the medical marijuana program several times about the approval date and receiving an “I don’t know” each time, I figured it would take a while.
NYS Announces Chronic Pain Qualifies for Medical Marijuana
Finally, last week a patient emailed me an article quoting the NYS health commissioner who said that from this Wednesday, March 22nd, patients in NY with chronic pain could be certified. I was really excited for my patients when I called the NYS Medical Marijuana Program to confirm and this time the answer was “Yes you can.” As chronic pain affects nearly 40% of the population, many chronic pain patients in New York could benefit from medical marijuana treatment. Without this option, these patients often have to resort to opioids like Percocet, oxycodone or OxyContin for relief because they are the only things that help when other first-line medications fail. Opioids help with pain but at the price of substantial side effects, including the risks of overdose and addiction.
Medical Marijuana Reduces Opioid Use in Chronic Pain Patients
In my experience, Medical Marijuana works well for chronic pain and I have seen great results. The patients diagnosed with neuropathy and chronic pain who I have treated with medical marijuana have been able to get off opioids, sleeping pills and other medications. What’s more, this occurs relatively soon after starting treatment. This is a really big deal, as anyone who is familiar with opioids knows – from the patients who uses them chronically to the physician who treats patients with them. In the past, trying to wean patients off opioids was difficult, to say the least. Sometimes, even suggesting to patients that they try and lower their opioid usage would cause severe distress, panic and fear. Other times, they would lash out in anger, at me or one of my staff members. It was one of the hardest discussions to have with a patient and I know that other providers would just rather not have to have this unpleasant but necessary conversation. Very often, my patients and I knew that, at least in the short-term, tapering off a medication they had become accustomed to might result in more of the pain they were trying to avoid by taking the medication in the first place. These patients had often tried every other medication available and could never find the same relief they achieved with opioids. But the risk was high. It was often a well-understood risk that desperate patients were prepared to take because it was better than being in pain. This is why I find medical marijuana to be so amazing. It is the one drug that has enabled patients to come to me and tell me that they cut their opioids in half, on their own.
Certifying My First Chronic Pain Patient for Medical Marijuana
Today, with bated breath, I went online to certify my first patient with chronic pain for medical marijuana. As the procedure relies on an online system prone to errors, I knew many things could go wrong but when I saw that chronic pain was added to the drop down list of qualifying conditions, I exhaled. I generated the certification document and…instead of chronic pain, it had “Neuropathy” on it! Before letting the patient know that there was a glitch or contacting the New York State Medical Marijuana Program, I noticed the certificate had another patient’s name on it. Perhaps, I should try the same thing again and hope for a different outcome? With computers, it seems that doing the same thing over again and expecting a different result is perfectly sane, so that’s what I did. This time it worked!
I believe this is going to make a huge difference in this patient’s life and that it can be an effective tool to help many of the 40% of New Yorkers who use multiple medications to alleviate their pain. New York State has taken a large step forward today, one that will help improve the lives of millions of New Yorkers suffering from chronic pain.
Dr. Michael Morgenstern is a double board certified neurologist, also certified to treat addiction. He treats patients with medical marijuana at Morgenstern Medical in Manhattan, New Hyde Park and Syosset, helping many of them to wean off of prescription opioids. He is the founder of the NY Medical Marijuana Association. He can be reached at [email protected]