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Health secretary rejects new uses for medical pot

Health Secretary Lynn Gallagher

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The state’s top health official on Wednesday rejected state Medical Cannabis Advisory Board recommendations to add opiate dependence and Alzheimer’s disease to the list of conditions that qualify someone to legally buy medical cannabis from a state-licensed producer.

The board had voted 5-1 on Nov. 4 to recommend adding opiate-use disorder to the list of 21 medical conditions that allow a patient to qualify for the New Mexico medical cannabis program. That recommendation would have allowed people addicted to heroin or narcotic painkillers to legally purchase marijuana.

Health Secretary Lynn Gallagher rejected the board’s Nov. 4 recommendation, citing a lack of scientific research to support the argument that cannabis can offer relief from the pain and suffering of people struggling with opiate addiction.

“While I share the Advisory Board’s concern about opioid use and its costs, I cannot say with confidence that the use of cannabis for treatment of opioid dependence and its symptoms would be either safe or effective,” Gallagher wrote in her response, issued Wednesday.

She added: “Also, I am concerned that utilizing one addictive substance to treat dependence on another without reliable medical evidence and human research studies is problematic at best considering our current opiate epidemic.”

The Journal was unable to contact members of the advisory board Wednesday for comment.

Gallagher noted that the board had listed several abstracts from medical journals and other articles that discussed addiction and cannabis use to support its recommendation.

“Most of the articles cited in the petition concern the effects of cannabinoids on chronic pain, and do not specifically address opioid use or opioid addiction,” Gallagher wrote.
The board also voted 5-0 in November to recommend adding Alzheimer’s disease, a form of dementia, to the list of qualifying conditions.

Gallagher responded that a former health secretary, the late Retta Ward, had rejected a 2014 recommendation by the advisory board to add dementia to the list of qualifying conditions, citing a lack of scientific research about the effects of cannabis on people with dementia.

“I share the concerns raised by Secretary Ward and add that the Advisory Board has not provided any subsequent evidence to change that determination,” Gallagher wrote. She also cited her concern about possible drug interactions between cannabis and medications prescribed to treat dementia.

Gallagher also rejected another advisory board recommendation that would have allowed doctors to use telemedicine to evaluate patients for certification in the medical cannabis program. Telemedicine evaluations could “erode the already limited contact that patients have with certifying practitioners,” she wrote.

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