Most medical marijuana users benefit from treatment, finds Ben-Gurion University study


The first study on the characteristics of patients with Health Ministry permission for treatment with medical marijuana – until now an unknown field – was revealed on Wednesday at the Sixth International Jerusalem Conference on Health Policy.

The conference was organized by the Israel National Institute for Health Policy Research.

The study was led by Prof. Pesach Shvartzman of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev’s Health Sciences Faculty, who said even though medical cannabis has been legal for a decade and is licensed to more than 20,000 patients for relieving pain and other symptoms, “there has been no information about the users themselves.”

Shvartzman concluded that most users enjoy significant improvement in pain and function, but that the cannabis also caused side effects.

The study, carried out to observe new patients using the drug for two years, looked at their socioeconomic characteristics, disease profiles, the medical indication for use, dosages, treatment given to the patient before giving cannabis, treatment safety, side effects, response and effectiveness of treatment and the patient’s use of health services during the year prior to and the year following treatment.

The patients were observed at three pain clinics and were interviewed by phone during the first three months of their treatment and then every four months for two years.

Of 321 non-cancer patients, 47.4 percent were male and the rest female. Of the 78 cancer patients, 60% were male.

The mean age of the non-cancer patients was 50.1 years and of cancer patients 57.5 years.

Of the cancer patients, 47% of the non-cancer and 40% of the cancer patients were native Israelis.

A total of 53.8% of the non-cancer patients and 56.9 of the cancer patients were secular.

Forty percent of the non-cancer patients and 49.3% of the cancer patients were employed. Of the non-cancer patients, 30.4% and 47.9% of the cancer patients had an academic education. Of the non-cancer patients, 56.7% were married, compared to 65.3% of the cancer patients.

Some 42% of all the patients had received recommendations for medical cannabis from their doctors, while only 24% from a friend or family member.

The prescriptions for the drug were most commonly given by palliative medicine specialists, orthopedists, and other specialists and only a tiny minority (0.4%) from the family physician.

Fully 99.6% applied for marijuana supplies after taking conventional medications that were not effective.

Nearly 56% said they wanted it because the previous drugs caused side effects.

Three-quarters of patients smoked the marijuana, while nearly 21% used concentrations in oil and the rest via vaporization.

More than 77% suffered from side effects; the moist frequent were dry mouth (60.6%); hunger (60%); 44% high moods; 23% sleepiness; 28.6% fatigue; 32% red eyes; and 13% blurred vision.

Most of the 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 after the first interview and 6% after the second interview because of side effects and because the treatment was not effective.

Meanwhile, the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis has just reported on a study of adolescents’ use of non-medical marijuana in the US, which indicated that the number of teens with marijuana-related problems is declining. Similarly, the rates of marijuana use by young people are falling despite the fact more US states are legalizing or decriminalizing marijuana use and the number of adults using the drug has increased.

The researchers examined data on drug use collected from young people aged 12 to 17 over a 12-year span. They found that the number of adolescents who had problems related to marijuana – such as becoming dependent on the drug or having trouble in school and in relationships – declined by 24% from 2002 to 2013.