News Article Details

Minnesota pot program working for PTSD

Star Tribune - 7/18/2019

Medical cannabis is significantly reducing anxiety and other symptoms in people suffering post-traumatic stress disorder, a new state health survey shows.

More than seven in 10 survey respondents said that after a few months medical cannabis was helping with their PTSD, and a similar amount showed "clinically meaningful" reductions in scores on a screening tool that measures the severity of their symptoms, according to the report released Thursday by the Minnesota Department of Health.

The results validate the decision to add PTSD, starting in 2017, as a qualifying condition for medical cannabis in Minnesota, despite a limited amount of clinical research to suggests that it can work, said Dr. Tom Arneson, a research manager for the state's medical cannabis program.

While the data suggests that cannabis itself is helping people, Arneson said, "their participation in the program has made them more willing to participate in psychological therapies, or feel like those therapies are more effective for them. That's something I'm very happy to hear."

PTSD is one of 14 medical conditions that qualify Minnesotans to receive medical cannabis in pill or oil forms, with Alzheimer's disease being the most recent condition to be added to the list as of this month. PTSD is marked by anxiety and stress, and involves people reliving the feelings of traumatic incidents in their everyday lives. It now accounts for 18% of the 17,202 people on the state's cannabis registry, making it the second most common qualifying condition behind intractable pain.

The Health Department is receiving petitions for additional conditions through July, and the state health commissioner will decide in December whether to add any. Arneson said survey data shows cannabis working at varying levels for all of the conditions, including seizure disorders, cancer, and inflammatory bowel disease.

While PTSD is often associated with soldiers or military veterans, they represented only 19% of the cannabis users in the state survey study. Arneson said cannabis worked at similar levels for civilians and military members, although military members reported more reductions in hyperarousal, a symptom involving heightened alertness and anxiety.

Limitations of the survey results included the lack of a comparison group of patients to see if they achieved similar benefits without cannabis, and the fact that only half of the 751 people who were initially surveyed provided follow-up responses after they had been taking cannabis for a few months.

Even if all of the people who didn't respond saw no benefit from cannabis, that would still leave a significant number of people reporting benefits, but Arneson said he doubted that was the case. The range of symptoms was the same at the beginning among people with PTSD who provided follow-up survey data and those who didn't, suggesting the follow-up results were an accurate sampling of the group, he said.

The results also didn't indicate if a particular form of medical cannabis worked better, such as forms containing lower or higher levels of THC, the chemical that produces a high in recreational marijuana. Arnseon noted that 4% of users reported little benefit, and about 20% reported mostly mild side effects such as dry mouth and increased appetite.

The state report included selected positive comments from people receiving cannabis for PTSD.

"Better sleep, better appetite, I'm not so angry all the time," said one responder. "My memories don't seem to bother me like they used to. This has been a life changer for me!"

"My family sees a night and day difference and it's easier to communicate with them," another said. "I've since found a part-time job with flexible hours to work around starting college in January, 2018. The only hope I have is that it becomes more affordable as I'm barely able to afford it now."

Jeremy Olson • 612-673-7744

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