By Susan-Elizabeth Littlefield

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — As of Wednesday, medical marijuana is available to more Minnesotans.

Medical cannabis must be prescribed by an authorized health provider. About 15,000 Minnesotans with conditions like epilepsy and cancer have qualified to receive medical marijuana since the program started in 2014.

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It has been medically recognized for four years in Minnesota in pill and oil form, but marijuana still most recognized for being a street drug. So Elijah Demers’s mom, Sarah, has had to deal with some raised eyebrows.

“I kind of brush it off because I say it’s healing my son, it’s a medication, it’s not street drugs, it’s legal, and we’ve seen significant improvements without the major side effects that we had with the pharmaceutical medications,” Demers said.

Medical cannabis just became available for sleep apnea patients and people like Ethan, who have autism. But Ethan has already been on cannabis for a few months because of a pain disorder.

(credit: CBS)

“We started picking up the medical cannabis in May, and since May we haven’t used any of his IV, IV opioids,” Demers said. “He does still intermittently need some narcotics, but we have wean significantly off them and we have seen really a significant improvement in his autism symptoms. He’s more verbal and he’s definitely more engaged.”

Demers is a strong believer in the program for which 15,000 Minnesotans qualify, as is her son’s doctor, Grechen Mowen, who is one of 1,250 certified providers.

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“What we have seen over the four years that I’ve been a part of the program is a quality of life improvement in all of our pediatric patients, from about 10- to almost 90-percent improvement in their quality of life,” Mowen said.

There are two manufactures in Minnesota: Leafline and Minnesota Medical Solutions, also known as MinnMed.

“There is some powerful evidence that obstructive sleep apnea and autism can be benefitted by medical cannabis,” said MinnMed Medical Director Dr. Jay Westwater.

He says he is hoping one day insurance will cover medical cannabis for patients like Elijah, who is making his way as his mother.

“We see improvements every day and we haven’t seen really any negative side effects or reasons of why the program would not be beneficial for him,” Demers said.

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Medical cannabis advocates in Minnesota say the conditions they hope to add to the approved list include Alzheimer’s disease, Hepatitis C, opioid use disorder and traumatic brain injury.

Susan-Elizabeth Littlefield