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Study: Minn. Medical Cannabis Program Drastically Reduced Opioid Dependence

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St. Paul, MN—  A new study indicates that Minnesota’s medical cannabis program is garnering promising results for both reducing opioid dependence and managing pain. The results of the research published this week by the Minnesota Department of Health adds to a growing body of scientific data supporting the use of cannabis for pain management and to stem opioid abuse.

“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 groundbreaking research study utilized the self-reported experiences of individuals enrolled in Minnesota’s medical cannabis program for intractable pain from Aug. 1, 2016 to Dec. 31, 2016, who were required to complete a self-evaluation before each cannabis purchase.

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Incredibly, the data revealed that among patients known to be taking opiate painkillers upon their enrollment into the program, 63 percent “were able to reduce or eliminate opioid usage after six months.”

Additionally, the research indicated that thirty-eight percent of enrolled patients reduced opioid medication and 42 percent reported a pain reduction of thirty percent or more, according to a report published by the Minnesota Department of Health’s Office of Medical Cannabis.

Other major finding included that a health care practitioner survey of those caring for program-enrolled patients suffering from intractable pain 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.

Minnesota’s results seem to comport with studies conducted in other states with medicinal cannabis programs. For instance, in 2016, data gathered from patients enrolled in Michigan’s program reported that marijuana treatment “was associated with a 64 percent decrease in opioid use, decreased number and side effects of medications, and an improved quality of life.”

Researchers noted that the safety profile of medical cannabis products offered by the Minnesota program appear favorable, and that no serious adverse events (life threatening or requiring hospitalization) were reported for this group of patients during the observation period, according to the Minnesota Department of Health’s press release.

“These survey results are a good starting point,” Dr. Tom Arneson, research manager for the office of medical cannabis, noted in the press release. “We need more research into the potential value of medical cannabis in pain management, especially as our communities grapple with the harmful impacts of opioids and other medications now in use for that purpose. We encourage health care providers to read the full report as they consider whether medical cannabis should be part of their strategies for treating patients’ intractable pain.”

Intractable pain, as defined by state law, is a state of pain in which the cause cannot be removed and, according to generally accepted medical practice, the full range of pain management treatments appropriate for the patient have been used without adequate result or with intolerable side effects.

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