The Oregon Health Division has expanded the state's medical marijuana program by adding "agitation of Alzheimer's disease" to the list of qualifying medical conditions, making patients eligible to use state-sanctioned marijuana. Some Alzheimer's patients develop the agitation syndrome, which is defined as the inability to settle down and includes symptoms such as verbal outbursts, pacing, and restlessness, all of which may lead to patient combativeness.
Oregon is one of a handful of states to allow seriously ill people to use marijuana for medical conditions. Measure 67, the successful 1998 initiative allowing medical marijuana use for Oregon residents, already provides for its use in cancer, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, cacheixia, severe pain, severe nausea, seizures and persistent muscle spasms.
Oregon has more than 60,000 Alzheimer's patients, but health officials don't expect an immediate rush to treat the syndrome with marijuana. Typically, doctors prescribe psychoactive drugs to treat the disease. While little research exists on the effects of marijuana on Alzheimer's agitation, the Health Division heard testimony from a seven-member panel of mental health specialists and a patient advocate recommending its inclusion for the syndrome.
But Liz McKinney, executive director of the Oregon Trail Chapter Alzheimer's Association, said her organization is in no rush to promote medical marijuana to treat the syndrome. She told the Portland Oregonian, "It's too early to recommend or deny [the use of marijuana]." McKinney said extensive scientific study was needed to examine both positive and negative effects on marijuana on Alzheimer's agitation. "That clearly has not happened yet, and we really cannot endorse it at this point," she said.
The advisory panel also lobbied to include anxiety and bipolar disorders on the list of approved diseases, but that effort failed.
Under Oregon medical marijuana law, to gain approval from the state Health Division, eligible users need a doctor's written statement supporting the use of the weed. Kelly Page, manager of the state's medical marijuana program, said about 700 people have registered to use medical marijuana since the law went into effect last May. Some 350 physicians have signed medical marijuana statements.
Meanwhile, the group sponsoring this year's Oregon marijuana legalization initiative is suing Oregon Secretary of State Bill Bradbury for his refusal to accept electronic signatures for their petitions. The signatures in question were gathered through <http://www.ballotdirect.com>.
The Campaign for Restoration of Hemp needs 66,786 signatures by July 7 to qualify for the November ballot. Organizers say they have already collected more than 67,000 signatures and that only a few hundred were gathered electronically. The lawsuit will thus not directly impact the current drive, but is a test case for new technologies.
The initiative, the Oregon Cannabis Tax Act, would allow the state to sell marijuana to patients and to any adult residents through the state liquor store system. The state would be empowered to tax marijuana sales.
In related news, Washington State's Medical Quality Assurance Commission has added diseases that cause severe gastrointestinal symptoms and seizures or muscle spasms to the list of conditions qualifying under the state's medical marijuana law, according to the NORML Foundation.