Minnesota Health Commissioner: Marijuana Patients See Many Benefits, No Serious Adverse Events

At the end of the first year of the Minnesota medical marijuana program, the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) is reporting good news about medical cannabis. Early data from MDH research is being heralded as “a first-of-its-kind study,” and it shows that medical marijuana has been positive for most of the state’s patients.

The study uses survey results and enrollment, purchasing, and health information to depict how the first year went for medical marijuana patients. The study uses data from July 1, 2015, through June 30, 2016, but the Minnesota health department issued a press release about the findings this month.

Minnesota Health Commissioner Dr. Ed Ehlinger said that the data from the program’s first year indicates that the program has been offering substantial benefits.

“Based on this evidence from the first year, Minnesota’s approach is providing many people with substantial benefits, minimal side effects and no serious adverse events.”

On a scale of one to seven, in which a score of seven is the greatest benefit, 64 percent of medical marijuana patients surveyed indicated a benefit rating of six or seven. Over a third of patients achieved a clinically meaningful reduction in symptoms for conditions. This included a reduction in seizures, symptoms of Tourette’s syndrome, muscle spasms, and Crohn’s disease. The survey results indicated that affordability was one of the biggest problems they faced. Medical marijuana is not covered by health insurance. Affordability was considered the biggest drawback of medical marijuana.

The MDH said that the findings fall in line with the initial research the department conducted during the initial implementation period.

“These year-one findings are consistent with what MDH found after the program’s first three months. MDH has posted the study’s executive summary at its medical cannabis data and statistics page. The summary includes information about first-year enrollment, cannabis purchasing patterns, cannabis use patterns, benefits, adverse effects and affordability. The complete study is scheduled to be released this summer.”

In the earlier research, only about 20 percent of medical marijuana patients surveyed reported that they experienced negative side effects. Among them, none of the side effects were life-threatening, according to the MDH.

“The harms reported were not life-threatening, though four patients (2 percent) reported an increase in seizures. Other side effects mirrored those reported in clinical trials of medical cannabis conducted outside of Minnesota, including dizziness, lightheadedness, fatigue, feeling high, sleepiness, stomach pains, burning sensation in the mouth and paranoia.”

Most patients in Minnesota reportedly enrolled in the program, because they experienced muscle spasms, had seizures, or had cancer. Cancer patients reported the greatest benefits in the preliminary research, according to the health department. In Minnesota, medical marijuana has been approved to treat symptoms associated with cancer, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, Tourette’s syndrome, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), seizures, severe and persistent muscle spasms, multiple sclerosis, inflammatory bowel disease including Crohn’s disease, and terminal illness. This summer, people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) will also be able to enroll in the program, according to the health department. The Minnesota Department of Health stated that both health care practitioners and patients reported benefits for each of the state-approved conditions.

For a patient to legally be able to take medical marijuana in the state, the law requires patients to get a certification from a Minnesota-licensed medical doctor, a Minnesota-licensed physician assistant, or “a Minnesota-licensed advanced practice registered nurse who has primary responsibility for care and treatment of the patient’s qualifying medical condition,” the health department states. Infants, children, pregnant women, nursing mothers, or people with a personal or family history of psychosis are not eligible to participate in the Minnesota medical marijuana program. There is also an enrollment fee that medical marijuana patients must pay annually in order to participate in the program.

[Featured Image by Ross D. Franklin/AP Images]