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MN Health: Medical marijuana eases cancer treatment symptoms for some

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Medical marijuana greenhouse
Medical marijuana grew in a greenhouse in 2015 at Minnesota Medical Solutions in Otsego.
Jennifer Simonson | MPR News 2015

Medical marijuana may help reduce the severity of side effects associated with cancer and its treatment. That's the conclusion of a newly published Minnesota study of more than 1,000 patients. 

Researchers found cancer patients who enrolled in Minnesota's medical cannabis program "reported significant improvement in symptoms, including reduced anxiety, lack of appetite, depression, disturbed sleep, fatigue, nausea, pain and vomiting, within four months of starting the medication," the state Health Department said in a statement Monday.

The analysis included data from cancer patients who enrolled in the Minnesota medical cannabis program between July 1, 2015, and Dec. 31, 2017. Many patients said they saw reduced severity of symptoms and maintained that benefit for at least four months following cannabis treatment.

"Nearly half of patients who experienced vomiting at the time of their cannabis certification reported the severity of vomiting reduced by more than 30 percent over the four months after their first cannabis purchase," the department said. "Side effects were reported by 11 percent of patients, with tiredness, dry-mouth, and increased appetite being the most common."

Officials said the data will help advance the research in using medical cannabis as part of cancer treatment.

"The data is promising, but we need thorough, high-quality research like this to continue in order to fully understand both the risks and potential benefits of medical cannabis," Dr. Dylan Zylla, medical director of the Oncology Research Center at HealthPartners/Park Nicollet and co-author of the study, said in a statement. 

Researchers, he added, are completing a randomized study of patients with advanced cancers to determine how medical cannabis affected pain control and opioid use. Preliminary results are expected in June.