On December 1st, 2016, the New York State Department of Health announced that chronic pain: “will be added as a qualifying condition for medical marijuana.” This major development would enable us to treat chronic pain with medical marijuana. Prior to this, patients would need to have another qualifying condition, like neuropathy or cancer, in addition to a symptom of chronic or severe pain, to obtain medical marijuana.

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Since most patients with chronic pain do not have one of these conditions diagnosed, the news is significant. Nearly 40% of Americans have chronic pain, compared to around 2% who have a diagnosis of neuropathy.

At the time of the announcement, many patients and care providers mistakenly thought the change would go into effect immediately. Some patients called my office to make an appointment to treat their pain only to find out that chronic pain wasn’t yet officially added and we had no idea when it would be. I routinely received emails telling me that chronic pain had been approved, but every time I called the NY Medical Marijuana Program to confirm this, I learned that it was not.

Back in December, shortly after the announcement, I was told that it was a “proposed regulation” change. The regulations still needed to be adopted into law before doctors could treat patients with a diagnosis of chronic pain. Just how long would this take? They did not know.

After several months had passed, I wasn’t expecting Medical Marijuana to be available for chronic pain any time soon. When patients asked me about it, I told them that I was hoping for it to be passed by July of 2017. Today, I received yet another email about medical marijuana being approved for chronic pain. This time, however, when I contacted New York States Medical Marijuana Program to confirm, I was pleasantly surprised that it was true. Practitioners will now be able to certify patients with chronic pain, starting Wednesday, March 22nd.

What took so long? According to one of my sources, in addition to legal issues related to adopting the regulations, NYS has had to make changes to the computer program that allows doctors to certify patients for medical marijuana.

With these legal and technological hurdles cleared, many more individuals suffering from chronic pain in New York will be able to benefit from medical marijuana. This news is all good for the 40% of New Yorkers suffering from chronic pain.