Most patients enrolled in Minnesota's medical marijuana program believe the medication is helping them, but a majority also think it's unaffordable, according to a Minnesota Department of Health survey.
About 90 percent of patients surveyed by the agency saw some benefit from the medical marijuana, with about half of patients giving the medication the highest marks possible, saying they'd received a "great deal of benefit."
"They feel like they've benefited quite substantially," said Tom Arneson, research manager at the Minnesota Department of Health. "Although a small but important proportion feel like they have not received much benefit at all from the medical cannabis, which is really something that does not surprise me too much — it's not going to be helpful to everyone."
Almost three-quarters of surveyed medical marijuana patients said that the biggest drawback of the state's program is that it's unaffordable.
"It is expensive and unaffordable for many parts of our population," Arneson said. "It's something that we hear about a lot, because some people are feeling like it's really benefiting them, and the cost is difficult."
Patients enrolled in the program must pay an annual fee of $200, although some may be eligible for a discount. Medical marijuana is not covered by any health plan in the state, so patients must cover the costs themselves. For many, this can add up to hundreds of dollars a month.
One patient wrote in the comments submitted with the survey that they believe the cost needs to go down. They said "it's much more efficient to go out and buy it on the street, however wanting to be legal I would rather pay the higher price."
About 20 percent of patients reported some side effects, including dizziness, feeling high or paranoid.
The state reports that 1,442 patients are enrolled in the program as of June. Minnesota's medical marijuana is among the most restrictive in the country. Only nine conditions including cancer and Crohn's disease are currently covered by the program, although patients with "intractable pain" will be eligible in August.
Arneson said much of the research about the effectiveness of medical marijuana comes from outside the country because the federal government still considers it a Schedule 1 controlled substance. He said Minnesota is the only state researching the effectiveness of a medical marijuana program to this extent.
"This is relatively new terrain for really all healthcare practitioners," Arneson said. "In some sense, this program is explicitly an experiment because there isn't all that much known about how this product may benefit and might harm patients."
The survey was sent to 435 patients who purchased the medication in the first three months of the program, and slightly more than half of those patients completed the survey. Another 169 patients were surveyed by health care providers. Arneson said more results from the surveys will be released later in the year.
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