Illinois residents have petitioned the state to add more than 20 medical conditions to the medical marijuana program, including anxiety, migraines, insomnia and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Petitioners identifying themselves as veterans of Vietnam and Iraq asked that PTSD be included, making emotional pleas for help, according to 269 pages of petitions obtained by The Associated Press through the state's Freedom of Information Act. The state blacked out the names of petitioners before releasing the documents to protect patients' privacy.
"I am a Vietnam Vet and can only imagine how things would have been," wrote one petitioner for PTSD. "While visiting in Colorado I had the benefit of trying cannabis in candy form.... and I felt wonderful. No thoughts of violence, self-deprecation, or hopelessness. My life would be different today."
Medical marijuana is legal in 23 states and the District of Columbia. California allows doctors to recommend it for a broad range of conditions, including arthritis, migraines and "any other illness for which marijuana provides relief," according to the language of the 1996 ballot initiative that made the state the first to allow medical marijuana.
Illinois law lists dozens of diseases, including cancer, multiple sclerosis and AIDS, that can qualify a patient for use with a doctor's recommendation and a state ID card, but it is more restrictive than in other states. The marijuana industry wants a broader list to create a bigger market in Illinois.
The Illinois Department of Public Health must approve any additions to the list. An advisory board made up of patients, nurses, doctors and a pharmacist is reviewing the petitions and will make a recommendation after holding a public hearing May 4. People can submit petitions twice annually, in January and July.
The board will be "cautious and conservative" as it considers research, the severity of the illnesses, other remedies available and what other states have done, said Dr. Leslie Mendoza Temple, a suburban Chicago doctor and the board's chair.
"We will not be able to approve all conditions," she said.
One factor the board will absolutely not consider is the wishes of marijuana business owners, Temple said. Regulations and the board's bylaws forbid board members from having financial ties with the medical cannabis industry, she noted.
Petitioners made the case for conditions including bipolar disorder, autism, psoriasis, chronic back pain, gout and osteoarthritis. Some said they already use marijuana illegally to find relief or they believe they know how it would help their condition:
"When I use cannabis, all of my intestinal muscles relax which provides immediate relief," wrote a person favoring the inclusion of irritable bowel syndrome.
"Cannabis will help me to sleep better, and it will help alleviate pain naturally," wrote a person with chronic back pain.
"Cannabis would cause my mind to stop obsessive thoughts and it could help me conquer my fears," wrote a person with obsessive compulsive disorder.
Some petitions mention research done in Israel and other countries. U.S. research on marijuana is limited by federal constraints, but more studies are coming. Colorado will spend more than $8 million researching marijuana's medical potential, awarding grants for studies on treating epilepsy, brain tumors, Parkinson's disease and post-traumatic stress disorder. Some of the studies still need federal approval.
The Illinois advisory board is well aware of the limits on research, said Temple, the board chair.
"Where science is lacking we must factor in our compassion more heavily," Temple said.