Health officials in Minnesota will expand the medical marijuana program to allow patients suffering from chronic or intractable pain to benefit from its therapeutic effects by 2016. 

The program, which was launched in July, faced low enrollment and high prices. Now officials plan to expand to service and bring in around 5,000 individuals. So far, 760 patients have already been approved.

"Given the strong medical focus of Minnesota's medical cannabis program and the compelling testimony of hundreds of Minnesotans, it became clear that the right and compassionate choice was to add intractable pain to the program's list of qualifying conditions. This gives new options for clinicians and new hope for suffering patients," Dr. Ed Ehlinger, the health commissioner, said in a press release.

Ehlinger urged the state's health care community to increase efforts to help patients manage pain. When medical marijuana was legalized in Minnesota in 2014, the program was restricted to just nine health conditions. However, Dr. Ehlinger was tasked to evaluate which conditions should be added, including intractable pain.

"People with intractable pain, their stories reiterated the fact that we don't have enough science to keep this medication from people who need it," he said. Intractable pain, as defined by the law, is a condition wherein the cause of pain cannot be removed or treated. 

After months of deliberation, collection of scientific evidence and 13 public hearings around the state, 90 percent of around 500 people from Minnesota supported the decision of adding intractable pain on the list of qualifying conditions for the use of medical cannabis.

Minnesota is the 19th of 24 states where medical marijuana is legalized for people suffering from intractable pain. Current conditions included in the list covered by medical marijuana are cancer, seizures (epilepsy), glaucoma, multiple sclerosis and other diseases that cause severe muscle spasms, such as Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS), Crohn's disease and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.

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