Medical Marijuana May Not Help and Could Lead to Misuse

Medical marijuana has now been legalized in 36 states in the US including the District of Columbia (DC).

With popular usage on the rise, there remains to be only mixed scientific evidence of the benefits of medical marijuana on a variety of conditions. A new study warns that using medical marijuana for pain, insomnia, anxiety, and depression may be ineffective and could lead to cannabis use disorder or CUD.

Cannabis use disorder differs slightly from abuse or addiction as it is a condition in which dependency may exist without the hallmarks of typical addiction, though it can also lead to addiction. CUD is complicated to diagnose but is generally defined as a cannabis use that creates problems for the user. Some of the criteria for this disorder include:

  • Continuing to use cannabis despite physical or psychological problems
  • Difficulty cutting down on or stopping cannabis use
  • Craving cannabis
  • Choosing cannabis use over other activities
  • Problems in social life due to cannabis use
  • Increased tolerance and withdrawal from cannabis when not in use

The study out of Massachusets General Hospital followed 269 adults in the Boston area that were interested in obtaining a medical marijuana card. Participants were split into two groups; one group was able to get their card right away and the other group which served as a control, was asked to wait 12 weeks before getting their card. Both groups were tracked for those 12 weeks. The findings:

  • The odds of developing a cannabis use disorder were two times higher in the group that got their medical marijuana card right away.
  • By week 12 of the study, 10% of the medical marijuana group received a cannabis use disorder diagnosis.
  • The number of participants diagnosed with a CUD by the end of the study rose to 20% in those seeking a card for anxiety or depression.
  • Self-reported improvement of insomnia symptoms in some participants was significant with cannabis use.
  • They found no statistically significant improvements in pain, anxiety, or depression with cannabis use.

The takeaway: Unlike other medications, when patients receive a medical marijuana card they choose their own products, dosage, and usage. Without much oversight, including very little professional follow-up from care providers, the study points out that there are especially high risks for those who seek medical marijuana for anxiety and depression to develop a use disorder. The authors suggest that more studies on the possible benefits of insomnia are needed. They also note that more regulation in the medical marijuana industry is essential to help avoid the potential for patients to develop a CUD.

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