Health

Medical marijuana program to expand, adding ulcerative colitis, considering autism

Empty display bottles of medical marijuana at MedPharm Iowa Dispensary Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2018, at the dispensary in Windsor Heights, Iowa.
Empty display bottles of medical marijuana at MedPharm Iowa Dispensary Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2018, at the dispensary in Windsor Heights, Iowa.

With some physicians on the Iowa Board of Medicine still expressing concern over the program, the board for the first time moved forward rules that would expand conditions in Iowa’s newly begun medical marijuana program.

The new rules, approved Friday, open the door for more dispensing forms and more approved conditions to receive treatment in the fledgling program, which was launched for public use this month.

Ulcerative colitis, a chronic disease that causes inflammation and ulcers in the digestive tract, has been added to the list of conditions approved for medical marijuana treatment.

Beginning sometime in the spring, patients with these conditions can obtain certification from their physicians, allowing them to receive registration cards to purchase products.

Board members also stated their intention to consider adding a second condition for individuals on the autism spectrum — severe, extractive pediatric autism with self-injurious or aggressive behavior.

The program currently only allows patients with the following conditions to purchase medical marijuana products — amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, of Lou Gehrig’s disease; AIDS or HIV; cancer; Crohn’s disease; multiple sclerosis; Parkinson’s disease; seizures; terminal illness; or untreatable pain.

A few board members opposed a state move to include more inhalable forms of cannabidiol to include nebulizable and vaporable, but the proposal ultimately was voted through.

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The Iowa Board of Health will take up the proposal in its Jan. 9 meeting.

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Board members and other physicians statewide consistently expressed concern over aspects of the program as it was developed and implemented following the passage of a May 2017 law expanding the state’s existing program.

A doctor’s role in the program is limited to approving patients for participation in the program. The doctor has no say in dictating product type or dosage amounts, causing hesitation among some to participate.

As one board member put it, doctors feel they are limited to “sending our patients to dispensaries and hoping for the best.”

According to the Iowa Office of Medical Cannabidiol, 353 health care practitioners statewide have certified more than 650 patients for the program as of Nov. 30.

Products available to patients come in tinctures, capsules or topicals. These products — produced by Des Moines-based MedPharm Iowa, the first licensed manufacturer in the program — went on sale Dec. 1.

A cannabidiol manufacturing facility also was approved in Cedar Rapids. Iowa Relief, a subsidiary of New Jersey-based Acreage Holdings, is slated to begin selling products by July 1.

State lawmakers, city officials and representatives from Iowa Relief broke ground on the facility Thursday, which is expected to complete construction and begin operation by March.

Products are only available at five dispensaries in Davenport, Waterloo, Windsor Heights, Sioux City and Council Bluffs.

l Comments: (319) 368-8536; michaela.ramm@thegazette.com

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