SHELBYVILLE – As the number of medical cannabis users in Illinois continues to rise, a new clinic coming to Shelbyville says it will be a fast on-ramp for sick people anxious to get the benefits of the drug.
The Marijuana Pain Management & Wellness Clinic will open its doors at 10 a.m Feb. 4 at 480 S. Heinlein Drive. The clinic will not dispense cannabis itself, but an in-house doctor will assist qualified patients to apply to become part of the Illinois medical cannabis pilot program.
“You will only be about 30 days out, from the point when you come and see us, from getting your (registration) card in the mail from the Illinois Department of Health,” said Caprice Sweatt, the founder and CEO of Medical Cannabis Outreach Pain Management & Wellness Clinics, which will run the Shelbyville facility.
Sweatt already has three clinics operating in Illinois and said they evaluate and counsel patients on the type of cannabis treatment that will benefit them most. Nurses will also be available for in-home visits to monitor patients and help them as they use the drug. “We don't want them to take too much so their heart races and they feel anxiety,” said Sweatt, talking of patients new to cannabis. “We want them to feel comfortable and get the best out of it they can.”
She said once patients are qualified and evaluated, they will be directed to any of several cannabis dispensaries (there is one in Effingham, more than 35 in the state) where they will buy the drug.
Sweatt said there is a need for her clinic because she claims some physicians, under business pressure not to harm regular drug sales, will not certify the paperwork of patients wanting to use cannabis. Doctor certification is required before the state considers allowing a patient with a qualifying condition (cancer, for example) into the Illinois medical cannabis program.
“So those patients denied have been left with nowhere to go,” she added. “But now we want to be there for them.”
Dr. Tom Anderson, president of the Illinois State Medical Society, said he is not aware of doctors being warned off certifying patients for medical cannabis use due to business pressures.
He said medical opinion is divided on the benefits and drawbacks of cannabis, and he said doctors working in medical systems attached to hospitals may be constrained by guidelines which don't sanction the use of cannabis in treatments.
Anderson, whose specialty is neural radiology, said it's also important to remember that doctors in Illinois are not prescribing the use of medical cannabis, which could run them afoul of federal drug laws.
He said Illinois law says that doctors are asked to certify that a patient has a qualifying condition that makes them eligible for medical cannabis use. The doctors are also supposed to maintain contact with that patient to monitor them because the law also says a doctor can withdraw certification, too.
“The law is designed to try and avoid having facilities that do not take any responsibility for the patient care and simply collect money and provide certifications (for cannabis use),” he said.
Anderson said the Illinois State Medical Society hasn't taken a stance on the use of medical cannabis because doctors' opinions remain divided. The state's medical cannabis program is due to come up for renewal or expire in 2020 and he thinks, by then, doctors will have a view on its efficacy. “I'm sure we will,” he added.
The Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Pilot Program became law on Jan. 1, 2014. That brought Illinois into line with 27 other states, plus the District of Columbia, Guam and Puerto Rico, which allow the medicinal use of cannabis. California was the first state to sanction it with the passage of “Proposition 215” in 1996.
In the years since the Illinois pilot program was passed, the number of patients registered with the state to use the drug has jumped to 7,700, a close split between equal numbers of men and women.
Some 40 conditions have been approved by the state as qualifying for medical marijuana use. Looking back over the 12 months up to June 2016, the top five most common conditions patients cited were severe fibromyalgia, cancer, spinal cord disease, multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health. The biggest single age group for patients is those aged from 51 to 60, who now make up almost 29 percent of medical cannabis users in the Land of Lincoln.
Sweatt, 50, suffers from an inflammation of the bowels called Crohn's disease (ninth on the list of most commonly cited conditions in Illinois) and smokes cannabis herself to control pain and discomfort.
She said she's been using it for years and the drug works great. She said it has enabled her to live a normal life free from taking prescription medications that had worst side effects than the underlying disease.
“Cannabis saved my life,” she said.
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