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Minnesota study finds marijuana helps patients during cancer treatment

A study examined the experience of more than 1,000 patients.

A Minnesota Department of Health study says that patients undergoing cancer treatment are seeing "significant improvement" in their symptoms when they take medical marijuana.

MDH and HealthPartners' Oncology Research Center found that cancer patients enrolled in the Minnesota medical cannabis program experienced reductions in anxiety, depression, disturbed sleep, nausea, pain and vomiting, as well as increased appetite within 4 months of starting taking cannabis.

The study looked at the experience of 1,120 patients with cancer between July 1, 2015 and Dec. 31, 2017, and was recently published in the Journal of Oncology Practice.

Almost half of patients who were experiencing vomiting prior to taking medical marijuana noted that the severity of the vomiting reduced by more than 30 percent over a 4-month period.

Around 11 percent of patients did say they had side effects with the cannabis, including tiredness, dry-mouth, and increased appetite.

"No other state medical cannabis program collects as much information on patients during their participation as Minnesota’s program, and this is a direct reflection of the program's commitment to learning from patient experiences,? said Susan Anderson, MDH research scientist and co-author of the study.

"It's gratifying to see the reported benefits and the relatively small degree of adverse side effects experienced by cancer patients."

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MDH and HealthPartners said the research could help doctors become more confident in prescribing medical marijuana and informing cancer patients of the potential benefits and side effects.

The team behind the latest research had previously conducted a survey that found 36 percent of doctors "lacked confidence in discussing the risks and benefits of medical cannabis with patients," and 85 percent wanted more education on the subject.

Minnesota's medical marijuana program launched in July 2015 and qualifying conditions to enroll in the program can include HIV, Tourette's Syndrome, epilepsy, PTSD, Alzheimer's Disease, chronic pain, and Autism spectrum disorders.

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