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Medical marijuana usage may result in the fast emergence of cannabis use disorder

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According to academics, the enthusiasm around medicinal marijuana for addressing health concerns may be overblown.

According to a recent research, using cannabis products to treat pain, anxiety, and depression did not relieve these symptoms while more than tripling the chance of acquiring the addictive signs of cannabis use disorder. People who used cannabis to address anxiety and depression symptoms were most likely to develop CUD. People with medical marijuana cards, contrary to evidence-based treatment, pick their own products and dose, implying the need for stronger controls over distribution, usage, and professional follow-up of these patients.

Obtaining a medical marijuana card (MMC) to use cannabis products to treat pain, anxiety, or depression symptoms resulted in the onset of cannabis use disorder (CUD) in a significant minority of individuals while failing to improve their symptoms, according to a study published in JAMA Network Open by researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH). Researchers discovered that those seeking treatment from anxiety and depression were most at risk of acquiring the addictive signs of CUD, implying the need for enhanced controls over the dispensing, usage, and professional follow-up of persons who lawfully get cannabis via MMCs.

“There have been numerous claims about the advantages of medicinal marijuana for treating pain, sleeplessness, anxiety, and depression, but there hasn’t been any solid scientific data to back them up,” says lead author Jodi Gilman, PhD, of MGH’s Center for Addiction Medicine. “In this first research of people randomized to get medicinal marijuana cards, we discovered that consuming cannabis for medical reasons might have detrimental implications.” People with pain, anxiety, or depression symptoms did not report any improvements, but those with sleeplessness did.” Individuals exhibiting symptoms of anxiety or depression – the most prevalent disorders for which medicinal cannabis is sought – were the most likely to developing cannabis use disorder, according to Gilman. CUD symptoms include the need for more cannabis in order to overcome drug tolerance, as well as persistent usage despite physical or psychological issues induced by cannabis.”

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“Medical” cannabis has grown in prominence, with 36 states and the District of Columbia commercializing its usage (as of December 2021) for a variety of health ailments through medical marijuana cards. These cards need the written permission of a licensed physician, who, under the existing system, is generally not the patient’s main care provider but a “cannabis doctor” who may authorize people with just a brief assessment, no advice for alternative therapies, and no follow-up. Indeed, the medicinal marijuana sector operates outside of the regulatory framework that governs most professions of medicine.

MGH researchers started their experiment in 2017 with 269 people (average age 37) from the greater Boston region who wanted to get a medicinal marijuana license. The first group was given MMCs right away, whereas the second group, which served as a control, was required to wait 12 weeks before receiving a card. Both groups were followed for a period of 12 weeks. The researchers discovered that the probabilities of obtaining CUD were almost two times greater in the MMC cohort than in the wait list control group, and that by week 12, 10% of the MMC group had received a CUD diagnosis, increasing to 20% among those seeking a card for anxiety or depression.

“Our findings highlight the need of making better decisions about whether to begin using cannabis for certain medical problems, notably mood and anxiety disorders, which are linked with an elevated risk of cannabis use disorder,” adds Gilman. Regardless of the exact health condition for which cannabis is sought, Gilman feels that cannabis regulation and delivery to persons with medical marijuana cards need to be considerably improved. “There has to be more advice for patients in a system that now permits individuals to pick their own medicines, determine their own dose, and often get no professional follow-up care.”

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Gilman is a psychiatry associate professor at Harvard Medical School (HMS). A. Eden Evins, MD, is the Cox Family Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse financed the research (NIDA).

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