The Secretary of Health denied a petition to add Alzheimer's disease to the list of medical conditions eligible for the medical cannabis program, even though the New Mexico Medical Cannabis Advisory Board voted unanimously to recommend making neurodegenerative dementia, including Alzheimer's disease, qualifying conditions.
Alzheimer's disease, similar to many of the conditions presently included in New Mexico's Lynn and Erin Compassionate Use Act, is a neurologic disease and has no known cure. Existing medications provide only temporary relief, without stopping the progression of the disease.
"It is really unfortunate that New Mexicans suffering from Alzheimer's related dementia, which often leads to a refusal to eat and combative moods, will not be allowed to seek relief from medical cannabis," said Jessica Gelay, policy coordinator for the Drug Policy Alliance. "There are no curative treatments for Alzheimer's disease, and, as the peer-reviewed evidence submitted to the department of health shows, there is reason to believe that medical cannabis could be helpful for people afflicted with this terminal condition."
Medical cannabis is currently available to Alzheimer's patients in thirteen of the twenty-three states with medical cannabis laws. Studies have demonstrated that people suffering from Alzheimer's disease related anorexia and nighttime agitation increase their body mass and have improved sleep patterns. Additionally, emerging evidence suggests potential for cannabis to be beneficial in reducing inflammation in the brain, a factor that can lead to the onset of Alzheimer's disease.
"In contrast to Secretary Ward's decision, the Medical Cannabis Advisory Board's action recognizes the debilitating impact neurodegenerative diseases have on New Mexico's increasing elderly population, and recognizes that medical cannabis should be part of a larger comprehensive approach to support our elders' quality of life," stated Emily Kaltenbach, director of the Drug Policy Alliance's New Mexico office. "New Mexico has a long history of respecting our elders and the board's compassionate recommendation to add these conditions is rooted in the great values of our state, we are sorry that the secretary did not agree with the board's recommendation."
Published studies suggest that medical cannabis may improve symptoms related to Alzheimer's disease and support the pharmacological and physiological benefits seen in the use of cannabinoid compounds and whole plant medicine on general symptoms of neurodegeneration.
A 2014 study done at the Byrd Alzheimer's Institute in conjunction with the University of South Florida College of Pharmacy, and published in the American Journal of Alzheimer's Disease, supports the use of cannabis for Alzheimer's. Among the positive findings are that tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) does not weaken immune function, decreases synthesis and accumulation brain plaque a hallmark of Alzheimer's disease, and at efficacious levels does not lead to cell toxicity. In conclusion the authors state "we believe the multifaceted functions of THC will ultimately decrease downstream tau hyperphosphorylation and neuronal death thereby halting or slowing the progression of this devastating disease."
More than 30,000 New Mexicans are currently living with Alzheimer's disease (AD) and the number is expected to increase to more than 40,000 by 2025. It is the leading cause of dementia among the elderly and is estimated to affect approximately one in nine people of the population over 65 years of age. Racial and cultural disparities are evident when considering the prevalence of AD among elderly New Mexicans. Older Hispanics are one and a half times more likely to have dementia than Anglos. Veterans, who comprise eleven percent of New Mexico's population, who suffer from PTSD are twice as likely as veterans without PTSD to develop AD or other age-related dementias.
Additional actions announced yesterday by the Department of Health were the approval of the condition of ulcerative colitis, and the approval of the board's recommendation to allow psychologists with prescribing ability to certify patients with PTSD for the program. However, the Secretary denied the ability of licensed medical practitioners, other than psychologists, psychiatrists and psychiatric nurse practitioners, from being able to certify patients for the program who have PTSD.
The Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) is the nation's leading organization of people who believe the war on drugs is doing more harm than good. DPA works for drug policies based on science, compassion, health and human rights.