On Friday, panelists from the Department of Health’s Medical Cannabis Advisory Committee approved four new conditions for DOH Secretary Alfredo Vigil to consider adding to the program.
Jose Pacheco, a medical cannabis card holder, attended the meeting to petition for cluster-type headaches and migraines to be eligible for treatment with medical cannabis.
“Seven moths ago I underwent brain surgery,” Pacheco said at the meeting. “I couldn’t walk. I couldn’t talk, and I had migraines every day. I spent the latter part of one year in the hospital. Getting back on your feet is hard to do, especially when you’re taking 50 or 60 pills to stay alive. That’s what I would be doing if I wasn’t in the program and if I wasn’t getting supplies.”
Pacheco said after he got his card he dropped down to taking about 14 pills per day.
“Medication for me runs anywhere from $4,000 to $5,000 a month,” he said. “I’m on Medicare and Medicaid, and they still don’t pay for some of my meds. And they still don’t pay for medical marijuana. Even though we have our licenses out here, we still can’t get it when you need it. You have to place an order; you have to wait. Many times your order won’t even be filled.”
The committee heard petitions for five conditions including cluster-type migraine headaches, Blepharospasm (eyelid twitch), Bipolar II Disorder, Hepatitis C and Ankylosing Spondylitis (an inflammatory disease of the spine and neck).
Hepatitis C was not accepted for consideration by the Department of Health secretary.
Petitioners did face some opposition from the panel and a doctor in the audience about how strict the diagnosing should be for Hepatitis C.
Steve Jenison, medical director for the Bureau of Infectious Diseases, is a member of the committee and said that Hepatitis C is already approved under the program, but only if the patient has undergone treatment with Alpha Interferon and Ribavirin. Alpha Interferon and Ribavirin is a treatment used in Hepatitis C patients to sustain the immune system.
“This (petition) is for the inclusion of any individual with Hepatitis C infection with a qualifying condition, whether that person is currently on treatment with Alpha Interferon and Ribavirin or not,” Jenison said.
Lawrence Leyba is a semi-retired anesthesiologist and family practice doctor who has worked with about 10,000 Hepatitis C patients. Leyba said medical cannabis should not be a treatment for the majority of cases.
“The idea that cannabis helps is a novel presentation here because I feel that, frankly, cannabis should be legalized for anyone to use at any time if he so wishes because it is a primarily recreational drug,” Leyba said in the meeting. “That being said, I see that there is a committee of professionals that are trying to do a good job as per the New Mexico citizens.”
Leyba said most Hepatitis C patients don’t exhibit symptoms, and few patients are incapacitated by the disease.
“I just feel that to approve cannabis use for Hepatitis C is so incredibly generic and without a solid foundation for the well-being of patients who are asymptomatic with hepatitis C,” he said.
Patrick Sullivan, the petitioner for Hepatitis C, said medical cannabis would help to alleviate a large variety of his symptoms, including nausea, vomiting, depression, fatigue and weight loss.
“If I do Ribavirin I have approximately a 35 percent chance of remission,” he said. “I don’t think that I should be required to take this treatment and compromise my immune system, especially when there are other anti-viral treatments available.”