Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Monday, March 5, 2018

Encouraging research from Minnesota on success of medical marijuana in the treatment of "intractable pain"

Download (9)This recent press release from the Minnesota Department of Health, headlined "Medical cannabis study shows significant number of patients saw pain reduction of 30 percent or more," provides a summary of this encouraging lengthy report titled "Intractable Pain Patients in the Minnesota Medical Cannabis Program: Experience of Enrollees During the First Five Months." Here is the start of the press release:

Forty-two percent of Minnesota’s patients taking medical cannabis for intractable pain reported a pain reduction of thirty percent or more, according to a new study conducted by the Minnesota Department of Health. “This study helps improve our understanding of the potential of medical cannabis for treating pain,” said Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm. “We need additional and more rigorous study, but these results are clinically significant and promising for both pain treatment and reducing opioid dependence.”

The first-of-its-kind research study is based on the experiences of the initial 2,245 people enrolled for intractable pain in Minnesota’s medical cannabis program from August 1, 2016 to December 31, 2016. Of this initial group, 2,174 patients purchased medical cannabis within the study’s observation period and completed a required self-evaluation before each purchase.

As part of the self-evaluation, patients completed the PEG (pain, enjoyment and general activity) screening tool. On a scale of 0 to 10 (with 0 being no pain and 10 being the highest pain), patients rated their level of pain, how pain interfered with their enjoyment of life and how pain interfered with their general activity.

Using the PEG scale data, 42 percent of the patients who scored moderate to high pain levels at the beginning of the measurement achieved a reduction in pain scores of 30 percent or more, and 22 percent of patients both achieved and maintained a reduction of 30 percent or more over four months. The 30 percent reduction threshold is often used in pain studies to define clinically meaningful improvement. Health care practitioners caring for program-enrolled patients suffering from intractable pain reported similar reductions in pain scores, saying 41 percent of patients achieved at least a reduction of 30 percent or more.

The study also found that of the 353 patients who self-reported taking opioid medications when they started using medical cannabis, 63 percent or 221 reduced or eliminated opioid use after six months. Likewise, the health care practitioner survey found that 58 percent of patients who were on other pain medications were able to reduce their use of these medications when they started taking medical cannabis. Thirty-eight percent of patients reduced opioid medication (nearly 60 percent of these cut use of at least one opioid by half or more), 3 percent of patients reduced benzodiazepines and 22 percent of patients reduced other pain medications.

The safety profile of medical cannabis products available through the Minnesota program continues to appear favorable. No serious adverse events (life threatening or requiring hospitalization) were reported for this group of patients during the observation period. 

Here is a portion of the executive summary from the full report:

Among respondents to the patient (54% response rate) and health care practitioner (40% response rate) surveys, a high level of benefit was reported by 61% and 43%, respectively (score of 6 or 7 on a seven-point scale). Little or no benefit (score of 1, 2, or 3) was reported by 10% of patients and 24% of health care practitioners.

The benefits extended beyond reduction in pain severity, though that was the benefit mentioned most often (64%). The benefit described second most often was improved sleep (27%), which likely has a synergistic relationship with reduction in pain severity. In some cases improved sleep, reduction of other pain medications and their side effects, decreased anxiety, improved mobility and function, and other quality of life factors were cited as being the most important benefit. The pattern of described benefits was similar in the patient and the health care practitioner survey results....

A large proportion (58%) of patients on other pain medications when they started taking medical cannabis were able to reduce their use of these meds according to health care practitioner survey results. Opioid medications were reduced for 38% of patients (nearly 60% of these reduced at least one opioid by ≥50%), benzodiazepines were reduced for 3%, and other pain medications were reduced for 22%. If only the 353 patients (60.2%, based on medication list in first Patient Self-Evaluation) known to be taking opioid medications at baseline are included, 62.6% (221/353) were able to reduce or eliminate opioid usage after six months.

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/marijuana_law/2018/03/encouraging-research-from-minnesota-on-success-of-medical-marijuana-in-the-treatment-of-intractable-.html

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