Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) researchers have found that medical marijuana users experience significant pain relief and function with only minor side effects, according to a new study.
It is the first study on the characteristics of patients who have permission from the Israel Health Ministry to seek treatment with medical marijuana.
The study, led by Prof. Pesach Shvartzman of BGU’s Faculty of Health Sciences, was recently presented at the Sixth International Jerusalem Conference on Health Policy. The conference was organized by the Israel National Institute for Health Policy Research.
“Although medical cannabis has been legal for a decade and is licensed to patients to relieve pain and other symptoms, there has been no information about the users themselves, ” Prof. Shvartzman explains.
The study examined more than 2, 000 cancer and non-cancer patients using medical marijuana with a focus on their socioeconomic characteristics, dosages, previous treatment, treatment safety, and side effects, as well as overall treatment effectiveness. Patients were interviewed by telephone in the first three months of treatment and subsequently every four months for two years.
Users reported in later interviews that their pain, nausea, anxiety, appetite, and general feeling had improved. Fewer than one in 10 stopped taking the drug due to side effects or ineffectiveness after the first interview, and only six percent after the second interview.
Nearly all of the participants (99.6 percent) sought a marijuana prescription after trying other conventional medications that were ineffective, while more than half (56 percent) reported seeking drugs with fewer side effects.
More than three quarters (77 percent) experienced minor side effects that included dry mouth (61 percent) and hunger (60 percent). Some 44 percent reported elevated moods.
Medical marijuana treatment has become popular and accepted over the last few years in Israel, with approximately 20, 000 registered users and 50 more approved each week by the Health Ministry.
“Israel is truly at the forefront of medical marijuana, ” says Ethan Nadelmann of the Drug Policy Alliance in Washington, D.C.