In a ruling that could significantly expand the use of medical marijuana in Illinois, a judge has ordered state officials to reconsider adding migraine headaches to the list of conditions that qualify a patient to buy the drug.
Cook County Circuit Court Associate Judge Rita Novak overturned Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Nirav Shah’s denial of a petition to add migraines to that list.
The judge ordered Shah to reconsider evidence presented to the Medical Cannabis Advisory Board before its members voted to recommend approval of marijuana to treat migraines.
The court ruling came in response to a suit filed by a man whose name was kept secret because he already has been using marijuana to treat his headaches, his attorneys said. Since adolescence, the middle-age man has suffered migraines up to three times a week, lasting from several hours up to three days, attorney Robert Bauerschmidt said.
The man has tried triptans, the most common treatment for migraines, but they didn’t work well. He tried narcotic painkillers but had a bad reaction that keeps him from using them, the attorney said.
“He’s been through everything,” Bauerschmidt said. “Marijuana doesn’t cure it, but he finds the pain less severe and believes the headaches are less frequent when he’s using it.”
Though federal law still prohibits marijuana possession, state law allows it for patients who have any of about 40 specific medical conditions, including cancer, AIDS or multiple sclerosis. Patients may buy the pot only from state-approved dispensaries.
The latest ruling comes after another judge last month ordered the state to add post-traumatic stress disorder as a qualifying condition for medical pot. That ruling has been rendered somewhat moot, since Gov. Bruce Rauner recently signed a law adding PTSD and terminal illness as qualifying conditions.
But taken together, the separate rulings by different judges suggest that judicial review may further expand the program.
Attorney Mike Goldberg, whose firm handled the two prior cases, has pending lawsuits asking to add six other conditions: irritable bowel syndrome, chronic postoperative pain, osteoarthritis, intractable pain, autism and polycystic kidney disease.
“It’s a potential game-changer for the industry,” Goldberg said.
But Annie Thompson, a spokeswoman for the Illinois attorney general’s office, which represents the state in court, emphasized that the ruling does not require adding migraines to the list. It instead orders the director to reconsider within the parameters of the law and the judge’s findings.
Joe Wright, the former director of the state’s medical cannabis program, agreed that the case is not a done deal.
“I’m not sure that means you’d necessarily have to add it,” he said. “That means they have to look at it again in light of what the advisory board considered.”
If migraines and other conditions are added, Wright said, “That would open up the patient population fairly sizably.”
Wright, an attorney, left his job as director of the state program in June, saying he was considering private sector opportunities. State law prohibits Wright from working in the same industry he oversaw for a year, but he said he could work in the industry out of state.
If the director adds migraines as a qualifying condition, that could greatly enlarge the number of patients. Migraines are a widespread condition, occurring in about 16 percent of Americans, according to two surveys cited by the American Headache Society.
Because there is no widely accepted blood test or brain scan to verify migraines, they typically are diagnosed by medical history, symptoms and a physical and neurological examination, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Typically Migraines occur repeatedly to the same patient, involving moderate to severe head pain that last for hours or days, nausea or vomiting and sensitivity to noise and light.