An advisory board voted Wednesday to add eight health conditions — including chronic pain syndrome, autism, osteoarthritis and post-traumatic stress disorder — to the list of illnesses that can be treated by medical marijuana in Illinois.
The state's Medical Cannabis Advisory Board had expressed frustration last month when Gov. Bruce Rauner's administration rejected its first 11 suggestions for expanding the list of medical conditions. Osteoarthritis and PTSD were on that earlier list, so Wednesday's votes reaffirmed the board's viewpoint and put the matter back in Rauner's hands.
Board chair Dr. Leslie Mendoza Temple said Wednesday that she hopes the Rauner administration will have a different response to the latest round of suggestions after dispensaries start selling the drug, which will be later this month or in early November.
Other conditions recommended by the panel Wednesday were chronic pain due to trauma, chronic post-operative pain, intractable pain and irritable bowel syndrome. The board recommended everything on its agenda after hearing public testimony and discussing available scientific evidence.
If Illinois were to follow the recommendation and approve autism, it would be the first state to do so. Children must have written certification from two doctors in Illinois to use cannabis, an important safeguard against misuse, Temple said. Adults need one doctor's signature.
"It would give clinicians and families another option to manage the symptoms of autism," Temple said, adding that conventional treatments such as risperidone have serious side effects.
But until the budget impasse in Springfield is resolved, board member Dr. Eric Christoff said, "we're in a holding pattern, and we will carry on with our work." He believes the Rauner administration and lawmakers will see when sales begin that marijuana means revenue for the state. The Illinois law established a 7 percent tax on marijuana sales.
"It's a revenue stream that's not a broad-based tax," Christoff said before the meeting in suburban Chicago.
The Illinois law already lists 39 conditions and diseases that can qualify a patient to use medical marijuana with a doctor's signature, including cancer, glaucoma, HIV, hepatitis C and multiple sclerosis.
Chronic pain is an approved use in 18 of the 23 states that allow medical marijuana, but not in Illinois. A recent review of 79 studies involving more than 6,000 patients found moderate-quality evidence to support the use of medical marijuana for treating it.
Under the Illinois medical marijuana law, the recommendations next need approval by Illinois Department of Public Health Director Nirav Shah, a Rauner appointee.
Rauner's views on the pilot program were reflected in his veto message of a bill that would have added PTSD to the eligibility list. The Republican governor said adding it would "prematurely expand" the program before the state has had the chance to evaluate it.
Temple read Rauner's veto message aloud Wednesday before making her own statement.
"I think we have to put our politics and social agendas aside and boil it down to what matters most, which is easing human suffering," Temple said in making a plea to the Rauner administration for consideration of the recommendations. "We bring a high level of education to this table. We ask that our recommendations be taken seriously as the pilot (program) moves very soon into its implementation phase."