Worst side effect of medical marijuana: its high cost

Most patients report significant health benefits


Most medical cannabis patients who completed a survey reported benefits from the medication, according to the results of a voluntary survey of patients enrolled in Minnesota’s medical cannabis program during its first three months.

The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) survey asked patients using medical cannabis to rate their level of benefit from one to seven. Benefit levels were classified into no or little perceived benefit (score of one or two), mild or moderate perceived benefit (score of three to five), and significant benefit (score of six or seven).

About 90 percent of patients reported mild to significant benefits (a score of three or greater). Only about 20 percent of patients reported side effects. The harms reported were not life-threatening, though four patients (two 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.

For most patients, the biggest reported drawback of medical cannabis was affordability. Seventy-three percent reported the cost to be unaffordable.

“These survey data are based on a small sample of patients and should not be confused with a clinical trial,” said Minnesota Health Commissioner Dr. Ed Ehlinger. “However, these results do highlight Minnesota’s data-focused approach to medical cannabis and the fact that patients are benefiting from the program.”

The top three conditions for medical cannabis use were severe muscle spasms, seizures and cancer. Of these three, cancer had the highest patient-reported benefit scores. Patients and healthcare practitioners reported benefits for all of the approved conditions.

MDH sent the survey to the 435 patients who made their first medical cannabis purchases during the first three months of the program (July 1 to September 30, 2015). Of the 435 patients, 241 (55 percent) completed the survey.

In addition, MDH sent a survey to the 345 healthcare practitioners, including physicians, physician assistants, and nurse practitioners, who certified patients as eligible for medical cannabis. Of these, 94 healthcare practitioners (27 percent) completed surveys for 169 patients (39 percent).

Reports of patient benefits by certifying healthcare practitioners were generally more modest than patients’ own reports. About 77 percent of respondent healthcare practitioners reported seeing a mild to significant benefit (a score of three or higher) for their patients.

The complete survey results are available at the Office of Medical Cannabis website. The results were first published in the June edition of Minnesota Medicine magazine. Results are also available at the MDH medical cannabis website.


Requests for additional conditions

MDH is also currently accepting requests to add new qualifying medical conditions or delivery methods to the medical cannabis program. MDH will only accept these requests between June 1 and July 31 each year. Requests received outside of these dates will not be reviewed.

MDH is authorized to add new qualifying conditions or delivery methods through a public petition process described in State statute and rules adopted in winter 2016. Those interested must complete the Minnesota Medical Cannabis Program Petition to Add a Qualifying Medical Condition or Minnesota Medical Cannabis Program Petition to Add an Approved Delivery Method. The Medical Cannabis Review Panel will report on the public health benefits and risks of any proposed medical conditions by November 1 each year.


— Information and graphic provided by the Minnesota Department of Health