Medical Cannabis in Minnesota Proves Successful in Fight Against Opioid Epidemic

As a physician with a clinical career spanning 14 years, I’ve been both trained and compelled to learn more and strive to care better. As such, upon recognizing the practitioner’s role in a multifactorial, pervasive, complex, systemic, escalating healthcare problem that has become formally acknowledged as America’s devastating prescription opioid epidemic, and federally acknowledged as a “Public Health Emergency,” I was inspired to pursue education and innovation over inertia and inaction.

For the last two years, the CDC has published data suggesting decreasing life expectancy despite increasing healthcare expenditure in the U.S. Opioids are now responsible for over 42,000 U.S. deaths annually and prescription drugs have become our nation’s leading cause of preventable death. More of us are dying from opioid overdoses than from either car accidents or gun violence.

Emboldened with the knowledge that our existing pharmacopeia was offering too little for some, while concurrently too much for many, I stepped away from traditional clinical practice to found LeafLine Labs, one of only two registered manufacturers and providers of medical cannabis and associated care in Minnesota.

Medical Cannabis has a documented history of medicinal use and success in the management of pain and other symptoms and conditions for the past 5,000 years, without a single case of death ever documented or attributed to acute toxicity or overdose.

Since the launch of the state’s program three years ago, over 5,000 LeafLine Labs patients have received our life-changing medicine, with ZERO serious adverse health events or hospitalizations attributed to our care, and countless stories of success. Our medicine has proven safe, consistent and effective, with patients experiencing fewer seizures, fewer symptoms, fewer side effects, and more sleep, more quality of life and more hope. And while we are pioneering prospective studies that will show the undeniable impact of medical cannabis, the compelling data we have observed to date is tangible evidence that this medicine is already impacting and saving lives.

The research team at LeafLine Labs has taken the first step to quantitatively confirm what we have anecdotally seen as professional caregivers over and over—medical cannabis is an appropriate medicinal treatment option for both pain control and for tapering patients off of opiates. A retrospective chart review of 100 LeafLine Labs patients (50 males, 50 females, age range 23-91, randomly selected) who qualified for Minnesota’s program due to intractable pain and were on opiate medications upon their initial consult has recently been completed, with more to follow.

The results are more than impactful. They are monumental as evidential support to confirm that medical cannabis is a safe, effective way to manage and alleviate pain. We found that 90 percent of patients had a decrease in their self-reported chronic pain level after 30 days of treatment (a result that was successfully maintained through 90 days) and 35 percent of patients had a self-reported decrease in their opiate use and/or had discontinued opiate use entirely after 30 days of treatment (a result that was similarly maintained through 90 days). The most common additional benefits cannabis provided, in addition to pain reduction, were sleep improvement (49 percent) and anxiety relief (26 percent). These results are nothing short of a miracle for patients who have been dealing with pain, dependence, addiction and debilitating side effects from opioids for years.

In an enlightening and now replicated 2014 study published in JAMA, the mere existence of a responsibly regulated medical cannabis program within a state allowing chronic or intractable pain as a certifying patient diagnosis correlated with a 25-33 percent reduction in prescription opioid overdose deaths. With responsible medical advancement, thousands of lives have already been saved, and more progress will follow.

As a profession that places patient well-being as our highest priority, we must accept responsibility to re-examine prescribing practices. That means embracing cannabis for the medicinal option it has always been and responsibly replacing its perceived stigma with medical relevance, scientific legitimacy, and most importantly, effective and compassionate care.

The worst public health crisis of our time may tragically have been brought about by modernized Healthcare and the practice of medicine therein, but it may similarly be responsibly addressed and eradicated with bold actions by the same.

By Dr. Andrew Bachman, LeafLine Labs Founder, CEO and Chief Medical Officer