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Marijuana for the mentally disabled?
Prescriptions might be considered on a case-by-case basis

01/01/15



The legislation that New Hampshire passed in 2013 to legalize medical marijuana specifies the medical conditions that might qualify a patient — and they’re all physical ailments. But there is language in the law that might include patients with mental disabilities too. 

Bill sponsor Rep. Timothy Robertson, D-Keene believes the law could provide relief to people with debilitating mental disabilities like bipolar disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder, among others.
The language he referred to reads:
“The department may include a medical condition that is not listed in subparagraph (a) that the department determines, on a case by case basis, is severely debilitating or terminal, based upon the written request of a provider who furnishes written certification to the department.”
Basically, Robertson said, it should be up to the doctor.
“I think it leaves it in the hands of a doctor, primarily, but it could go to the hands of a [Department of Health and Human Services] commission,” Robinson said. “If a doctor, he’s a professional, if he thinks this is going to help your situation, it should be covered. It should be his judgement.”
Michael Holt, rules coordinator for DHHS, wouldn’t speculate about whether mental disabilities may be covered in the law, but he said DHHS may review such requests on a case by case basis. If it were to approve medical marijuana use for someone with bipolar or PTSD, for example, then that approval would extend to others with those conditions, he said.
“The law established what a qualifying medical condition is and lists those conditions and symptoms. The patient would have to have both a condition and a symptom. It’s an ‘and’ list,” Holt said. 
The medical conditions include cancer, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, muscular dystrophy, Crohn’s disease, multiple sclerosis, chronic pancreatitis, spinal cord injury or disease, traumatic brain injury or “one or more injuries that significantly interferes with daily activities as documented by the patient’s provider.” Those conditions must be, according to the law, “severely debilitating or terminal,” or previous treatment of those conditions must be ineffective or cause serious side effects.
Robertson, who has been trying to decriminalize marijuana for 20 years, said we need to take care of the mentally ill population.
“I think we ought to take care of [anyone who is suffering],” he said. “Give them all the help that’s possible. If marijuana will help them gain some comfortableness in their life, we need to do it.”
Rex Bunnell, a Licensed Drug and Alcohol Counselor for 20 years, said he would like to see the legislation expand to include more illnesses, including bipolar, PTSD and other anxiety-related disorders.
“PTSD is really an anxiety issue. Anything concerning anxiety could be lessened dramatically by using certain cannabinoids. There are a lot [of cannabinoids aside from THC] that work quite well for certain conditions,” Bunnell said.
Bunnell said he could see medical marijuana helping a lot more people than those who have the conditions currently outlined in the law. 
“I see right now, it’s very restrictive. There is only a handful of qualifying conditions. When you consider the cannabinoids and different strains and what the illnesses have responded to, there is an extremely long list of conditions. You could easily double [the current list]. That would certainly be helpful for a lot of people who are suffering,” Bunnell said. 
Bunnell used PTSD and bipolar disorder as examples of how medical marijuana could help. 
“Post traumatic stress disorder, is that the brain is engaged in a fight or flight response disorder, usually from a life or death situation. … What the cannabinoids [do] is help reprogram the brain into more of a relaxful state, where it can get away from that fight or flight response,” Bunnell said. “Bipolar is really two conditions lumped into one. You’ve got episodes of depression and episodes of mania. What the different strains of cannabinoids can do is put someone on a level playing field. In someone who experiences mania, it relaxes a person, and gives them the opportunity to breath. With someone who is depressed all the time, it kind of allows them to feel, to feel better about who they are as a person.”
Bunnell is currently in the application process to establish an alternative treatment center called White Birch Medicinals. The deadline for ATC applications is Jan. 28. Bunnell said the ATC is planned for the Concord area, but he couldn’t be more specific due to non disclosure agreements. He is eyeing Fall 2015 as a potential opening date. 
Holt said DHHS will score applications and select up to four ATC proposals. Those selected have 10 days to send the initial fee and 90 days for the registration application, which would include things such as floor plans and zoning approvals. The law allows for up to a year to begin operations. 
Holt said that patients will be able to apply shortly before the first ATC becomes operational. 
 
As seen in the January 1, 2015 issue of the Hippo.





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