New Jersey's newly expanded medical marijuana program allows the use of cannabis for a wide range of ailments — more than 50 in all, including chronic pain, migraines, and anxiety.

With this new list, most medical patients in New Jersey may find that they are eligible to participate in the program with their doctor's permission, experts said.

Gov. Murphy announced this week that the state Health Department would immediately add an array of new conditions to the previous list of about a dozen ailments, such as cancer, multiple sclerosis, and epilepsy.

Gov. Murphy announces major changes to the medical marijuana program
JAN HEFLER / Staff
Gov. Murphy announces major changes to the medical marijuana program

Chronic pain is a broad category that includes arthritis, fibromyalgia, lupus, and even opioid addiction disorder, said Donna Leusner, a spokeswoman for the Department of Health.  To purchase cannabis, patients must be deemed eligible based on the state's list of qualifying conditions.

Andrew Medvedovsky, a board-certified neurologist who is considered a top medical marijuana doctor in the state, said many more patients will now be able to obtain cannabis to treat their pain. "Generally, about one-third of the population lives with chronic pain," he said.  "That number alone will give you an idea of the possible number of patients who would qualify, and when you add in anxiety and migraines, you could be looking at about 60 percent" of patients in the state, he said.

Medvedovsky has five medical clinics, including ones in Moorestown and Turnersville, and recommends cannabis for about 5,000 of his patients.  Many are diagnosed with spasticity and other neurological problems that were covered under the list created eight years ago when the program was established.

New Jersey is one of 29 states with a medical marijuana program.  Under Murphy's predecessor, Gov. Chris Christie, the state's program was deemed one of the strictest in the nation.  Pennsylvania, which launched its program this year, includes chronic pain on its list of qualifying conditions, as do many other states.

Chronic pain is defined as pain that typically lasts three months or longer or that continues "past the time of normal healing," according to New Jersey's new health commissioner, Shereef Elnahal, who approved adding the category to the list this week.

Last fall, a review panel of health and pharmaceutical experts recommended that the department place 43 new ailments on the list, based on the testimony of patients who suffered from the various conditions.  Later, all of these ailments were grouped into five general categories – chronic pain associated with musculoskeletal disorders, chronic pain from a visceral origin (internal organs), migraines, anxiety, and Tourette syndrome.

Medvedovsky said the two categories of chronic pain include all of the debilitating conditions that can cause chronic pain.

Elnahal approved all of the recommendations.

But in a letter outlining his findings, he cautioned that this is not "intended to be a blanket endorsement for every patient afflicted with a condition falling under the MMP [medical marijuana program] to utilize medical marijuana as a treatment.  As with any condition, the course of treatment must be determined by a medical professional after a thorough evaluation and discussion with the patient regarding the benefits and possible negative effects."

For more information on eligibility, see: http://www.nj.gov/health/medicalmarijuana/pat_faqs.shtml