6,300 Illinois Patients Rush To Apply For Medical Marijuana — Maybe A Little Too Quickly

More than 6,000 people have already applied to use medical marijuana in Illinois — but some patients may have signed up a little too quickly.

Only 800 of the 6,300 applications started with the state’s Medical Cannabis Pilot Program — about 12 percent — are considered complete, state officials said Wednesday.

“We are encouraged to see people registering for the Medical Cannabis Pilot Program, which will provide patients much-needed relief from dozens of debilitating medical conditions,” Bob Morgan, statewide project coordinator for the Illinois Medical Cannabis Pilot Program, said in a statement. “We will continue to process applications so that registered patients and caregivers will have access to medical cannabis as soon as it becomes available.”

Applications must include documents like a doctor certification form and background check information. Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) officials say applicants whose registrations are incomplete will be notified by mail and given 21 days to hand in the required documents.

The most common debilitating conditions cited by prospective medical marijuana patients are cancer, severe fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis and spinal cord injuries, state officials said.

IDPH staff started sending approval and denial letters two weeks ago. Jim Champion, the first person to apply to be part of the state’s pilot program, already received the green light to enter the program to treat symptoms of multiple sclerosis .

“I was shocked it came so fast,” the 48-year-old Army veteran told the Sun-Times. “I’m very excited.”

Though medical marijuana registry cards will soon be issued to approved patients, no dispensaries have yet opened in the state; officials expect medical marijuana to actually become available in early 2015, more than a year into the four-year pilot program.

In Israel, there is technically no legislation regulating marijuana for medical purposes but its Ministry of Health issues special licences allowing patients to use cannabis for certain medical reasons.

The country has been at the forefront of medical marijuana research since the 1960s, when Prof. Raphael Mechoulam isolated and studied THC, the psychoactive property in cannabis that leaves users feeling “stoned” but also helps relieve symptoms like food aversion and nausea.

Another Israeli professor, Ruth Gallily of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, has studied the other main medicinal ingredient CBD, the property that can act as an anti-inflammatory and anti-anxiety medicine.

Canadian licensed producer MedReLeaf has partnered with Tikun Olam, Israel’s primary supplier of medical cannabis, and a company on the cutting edge of marijuana advancement. It counts Mechoulam, “the grandfather of THC,” among its advisers.

“It’s the only country that I know that has been researching it for so long, and consistently,” said Maayan Weisberg, Director of Marketing and Business Development during an interview at MedReLeaf’s Markham, Ont., facility.

MedReLeaf has licensed some of Tikun Olam’s patented strains of marijuana that the company developed based on research collected from about 7,000 patients over the past seven years. Now, the company is involved in clinical research in major hospitals in Israel.

“We are the only company in the world that has this accumulated data about patients,” Weisberg said.

Tikun Olam, whose name means “healing the world” in Hebrew, has used patient feedback to create hybrid strains and play with genetic material. The company has experimented with different concentrations and ratios of cannabinoids to customize treatment for different types of patients.

“If it’s an elderly patient, you don’t instruct them the same way you do a child, you don’t instruct a Parkinson’s patient the same as you do a cancer patient.”

Israeli researchers have studied the role of cannabis in treating a variety of ailments including anti-tumour properties for cancer patients, reducing weight loss among HIV patients, treating neuropsychological disorders and preventing tremors and shaking in multiple sclerosis sufferers.

The researchers last year found evidence that marijuana helps fight Parkinson’s and Crohn’s disease.

Though the Netherlands legalized medical marijuana two years after Canada, its main provider has enjoyed more freedom to experiment than Canada’s former sole provider CanniMed, which was limited to one strain under the government’s old program.

Unlike in Canada, medical marijuana has been available through pharmacies since 2003 through a government agency that also works with universities and research institutes.

There is one major supplier in Holland — Bedrocan, which has used feedback from patients, epidemiological studies and genetics to develop three strains of marijuana to cater to specific needs. Bedrocan also ships to other European countries that allow medical marijuana. It is working to develop clinical trials in Holland.

Bedrocan’s three strains are all covered by Holland’s largest health insurer, and a majority of physicians support its use.

Now, Bedrocan Canada, a sister company that is importing product from Holland, is one of 12 licensed producers under Canada’s new medical marijuana free market.

Though the Canadian ruling came first, the country is still far behind in developing medical marijuana in part due to how the drug was introduced. In Canada, a Supreme Court ruling forced the government’s hand and made it possible to access cannabis for medical reasons, whereas in the Netherlands, medical usage became available because of a sympathetic government .

“The program in Canada has been forced upon Health Canada by the Supreme Court whereas in the Netherlands it was developed out of a compassionate use for patients so they have a lot more liberal attitude towards cannabis and how it can benefit,” said Marc Wayne, head of Bedrocan Canada.

He blames a change in government funding policy that was ushered in by the Harper government eight years ago for cutting off experimentation with therapeutic uses of ganja.

“On the scientific level we’ve been kind of stunted in Canada.”

Under a program that started April 1, which allows commercial-sized grow operations, research funding will be left up to the private sector. In the Netherlands, Wayne explained, Bedrocan is funding much of the research.

“It definitely influences what strains are brought to market,” Wayne said, adding that patient research is behind the six strains Bedrocan now has available.

Licensed Canadian producers are turning south of the border for marijuana growing know-how.

Tweed Inc. of Smiths Falls, Ont., did research in Colorado and turned to Maine to find master grower Ryan Douglas, who worked for a state-level medical marijuana facility. There, he oversaw 20 strains of grass. Similar advancements are taking place at the state level across the U.S.

Yes, even Canada’s War on Drugs-focused neighbour is making strides in the development of new marijuana strains. Although marijuana remains illegal at the federal level, more than 20 states now allow medical marijuana usage and two states allow recreational use. An additional 12 states now have legalizing recreational marijuana use on the agenda.

There is research being done in universities and institutes, and even the American Medical Association has endorsed the reclassification of marijuana from a Schedule I “most dangerous” drug to allow for further study.

Though officially opposed to its use as a medicine, the U.S. actually holds patents for cannabinoids.

Most recently, a proposal to study the effectiveness of cannabis in treating post-traumatic stress disorder got the green light from two U.S. federal agencies. Researchers are waiting on the Drug Enforcement Agency for the go-ahead for a clinical study at the federal level. The FDA has also approved clinical trials for the use of marijuana in treating epilepsy.