Minnesota Patients Benefiting from, but Struggling to Afford, Medicinal Cannabis

A majority of Minnesota patients and health-care practitioners are experiencing “significant” therapeutic benefits from medical marijuana treatments, but three-quarters of patients consider the substance unaffordable.

Patients and health-care providers in Minnesota report positive results from the state’s medical marijuana program, but find the substance nearly impossible to afford, according to a recent Minnesota Department of Health survey.

Sixty-six percent of patients and 46 percent of practitioners responded that medical marijuana provided a “significant” level of benefit. Nearly 88 percent of patients and 68 percent of health-care practitioners reported at minimum some benefit from medical marijuana treatments.

“This was certainly not a clinical trial. It can’t answer questions about effectiveness,” Dr. Thomas Arneson, research manager for the MDH’s Office of Medical Cannabis, told MinnPost in a phone interview. “But I was impressed by the high level of benefit reported. We heard from 55 percent of the patients, which is pretty good. So even if it was a lower presumption of benefit among the others who didn’t respond, it was still pretty substantial.”

Patients are also, however, struggling to afford medicinal cannabis, which is not covered by insurance. According to the survey, 73 percent of patients responded that medical marijuana was “unaffordable.” Thirty-five percent said the “cost is very prohibitive.”

Patients in Minnesota spend an average of $250 per month on medical marijuana products, Post-Bulletin reports. They must also pay a $200 annual registration fee. The high prices are primarily due to the slow rate of patients registering for Minnesota’s medical cannabis program, and as of now, the cost is preventing medicinal cannabis from being a long-term treatment solution.

The survey was conducted to examine and report on the state’s relatively new medical cannabis program. The MDH mailed the survey to the 435 patients who purchased medical marijuana during the program’s first three months, between July 1 and September 30, 2015. It was also mailed to the 345 health-care practitioners that certified the patients eligible for treatment. Patients and practitioners were asked to rate the level of benefit received from medical marijuana from 1 to 7, with a score of 1 equal to no benefit and a score of 7 meaning a great deal of benefit. Fifty-five percent (241) of patients and 27 percent (94) of practitioners completed and returned the survey.

The survey found that the most common conditions prescribed marijuana in Minnesota are muscle spasms, seizures, and cancer. Patients with cancer specifically reported the most beneficial effects of medicinal cannabis.

Minnesota voters passed the state’s comprehensive medical marijuana program in May 2014, but it wasn’t until July 1, 2015 that dispensaries began selling product. Under the program, approved patients can consume medical cannabis in liquid or oil form. The program features nine qualifying medical conditions, including cancer (and cancer treatment side effects), glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, Tourette syndrome, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), seizures and epilepsy, severe and persistent muscle spasms (including from multiple sclerosis), Crohn’s disease, and terminal illness.

Beginning July 1, 2016, intractable pain will be added to the list of qualifying medical conditions. This addition may increase the number of registered patients and help to reduce overall cannabis costs.