With chronic pain added to conditions, demand for Louisiana medical marijuana could rise

Dr. Victor Chou is one of about 15 doctors who have already been licensed to recommend medical marijuana in Louisiana. He hears from one type of patient more than any other: Those suffering from chronic pain.

Even before Louisiana lawmakers said chronic pain could legally be treated with medical marijuana, Chou was fielding calls from patients who said they had the condition. Now, he estimates that about 75 percent of the calls he has received are from chronic pain patients.

“Once chronic pain was approved as a medical condition my phone blew up,” Chou said. “Nobody was expecting that to happen.”

People working in Louisiana’s burgeoning medical marijuana industry expect that the approval of this condition, in addition to PTSD, severe autism, glaucoma, Parkinson’s disease, and severe muscle spasms, could ramp up patient demand as the program falls into place.

A 2016 study by the Marijuana Policy Group noted that by adding chronic pain to the list of qualifying conditions, patient numbers in Louisiana could increase by 37,343, to about 105,000 total. The Denver-based research group estimated that chronic pain medical marijuana patients in Louisiana would be able to generate anywhere between $3.4 million to $4.7 million in tax revenue. 

The study, however, noted that the estimates were based on ease of access for patients.

Low doctor participation in the program, as well as rules that limit the number of patients each licensed physician can see, could impede access to the program once it is up and running later this year.

So far only 20 doctors in the state have applied to the medical marijuana program, according to data from the Louisiana State Board of Medical Examiners. Of that group only 15 have been approved as of June 25 to recommend medical marijuana.

Dr. Vincent Culotta, the executive director of the state board

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