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Lansing — A state panel on Friday recommended adding 10 new conditions for patients to qualify for medical marijuana cards, including autism and Parkinson’s disease, setting the stage for a significant expansion of treatment options under the 2008 law.

The former director of the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs rejected an autism recommendation in 2015. But medical experts say there is growing evidence that marijuana is an effective treatment for some patients, and its use has been championed by passionate parents.

“There’s been a lot more experience the past few years with our medical provider community,” said Michigan Chief Medical Executive Dr. Eden Wells, who voted against an autism recommendation three years ago but is now supportive.

“There’s also been a lot more knowledge and experience with entertaining alternative treatments, and I don’t mean just marijuana. I’m talking about behavior therapies and many of the modalities that are now being used to help folks who suffer from autism get by day-to-day without either harm to themselves or others.”

The Michigan Medical Marihuana Review Panel, chaired by Wells, is also recommending the state allow medical marijuana use for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Tourette’s Syndrome, inflammatory bowel diseases, spinal cord injuries, arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, ulcerative colitis and chronic pain, a variation on current rules allowing treatment for chronic or debilitating conditions.

The recommendations now head to LARA Director Shelly Edgerton, appointed to the post in 2016, who has until July 10 to make a final decision on most of the conditions. Because the petition was filed later, she has until Aug. 6 to decide on the chronic pain petition.

David Crocker, a review panel member and medical doctor who helps run the Kalamazoo-based Michigan Holistic Health, said his clinic has used medical marijuana to treat autistic children suffering from other conditions currently allowed under state law, including seizures and chronic pain.

“Almost invariably in those patients the autistic symptoms improve,” he said. “You’ve never seen a happier parent than when they find something that works for their child, and they’ve’ already been through a litany of other things.”

Former director Mike Zimmer rejected a request to add autism to the law three years ago, citing a lack of scientific evidence and concerns it would not just apply to severe cases. The new proposal would allow medical pot treatment for autism, as opposed to any diagnosis on the autism spectrum, which Wells said made her more comfortable with approval.

The board rejected citizen petitions to allow medical marijuana use for several mental health disorders, including depression and schizophrenia, which Wells said were either overly broad or lacked supporting research showing efficacy.

Crocker advocated for a petition seeking to add non-severe and non-chronic pain as a treatable condition under the medical marijuana law. The proposal was tabled for future discussion after the panel deadlocked in a 3-3 vote.

Allowing doctors to recommend medical marijuana for post-operative patients could limit the use of prescription opioids and ultimately help fight the national opioid crisis, Crocker argued.

“A lot of patients that undergo surgeries for knees and backs and other things are able to use cannabis in lieu of narcotics and in doing so bypass a lot of the side effects and the potential for addiction,” he said. “We also know that people don’t kill themselves with marijuana, and it’s very effective for pain.”

Crocker acknowledged the evidence is mixed on the connection between marijuana in opioid overdoses. In Colorado, which legalized recreational pot use in 2014, opioid deaths initially dropped but hit a new all-time high in 2017, according to The Denver Post.

“I think the argument that states that have medical marijuana available have less opioid overdose problems is fallacious, as to me all of those are issues related to the chronicity of use,” said physician panelist Jeanne Lewandowski, who opposed the petition.

“There are certainly many plans afoot to limit opioid utilization, as we’ve learned more about opioids, but it does not support the efficacy of the use of the medical marijuana for non-severe and non-chronic pain.”

The panel could reconsider the non-severe pain petition and other tabled proposals at a future meeting, likely in July.

joosting@detroitnews.com

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