Medical Cannabis 101
Working in Colorado, I have patients who use cannabis products to treat a variety of things and more who ask questions related to its use. The history of marijuana in this country has made extensive research an impossibility until recently, and there is ever-growing evidence that this plant may hold medicinal uses, either as a whole plant or in some combination of its derivative compounds. It is an exciting time in regards to the possible medical applications of this plant.
A 2017 survey-based study was conducted by a team from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, headed by Nicolas Schlienz, PhD. This study involved online surveys of both users and non-users of medical marijuana and cannabinoid therapies, with responses collected at 3 month intervals. Several different metrics were used within the survey model, including such things as the World Health Organization Quality of Life questionnaire, the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index, and the Numeric Pain Rating Scale.
This study focused on 874 participants, with 518 cannabis users and 356 non-users. From these, the most common reported medical conditions were chronic pain, neurological disorders such as epilepsy, and neuropsychiatric disorders. The researchers found that medical users reported statistically significant improvement in overall quality of life, increased satisfaction with their health, less pain and anxiety, improved sleep, fewer sick days taken from work, and less overall visits to both the emergency department and hospitals in general.
A large subset of patients in the survey were epilepsy patients (273 total patients, of which 168 were medical cannabis users). The majority of these patients used cannabidiol (CBD) products only (56.5.%), with only 4.8% admitting to using tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) products. Also, the majority (53.4%) revealed that they did not seek a physician for a medical cannabis recommendation.
There were a few important take-aways from studying this type of research. First, it is important to get a recommendation from your physician if you are thinking of using medical cannabis to treat any type of physical or mental illness. And it is equally important to be honest and open in regards to what exactly you are taking in order to coordinate with other medications and treatments. This transparency will keep you safer and will allow for a more holistic approach in overall therapy. Never assume that cannabis or any other treatment is safe and without side-effects, so have a candid discussion with your health care provider. And never stop one type of treatment and start something else without informing your primary doctor first.
The second important point is that the cannabis users in this study reached statistically significant improvements through all parts of the study measurements. That seems to point to an obvious health benefit from using cannabis. However, there were some limitations to both the study design itself and the very subjective nature of the findings. I want to stress that not enough research has been done to solidly show all of the benefits that are claimed by cannabis users. And these researchers themselves were quick to say that they were not endorsing medical cannabis use.
Finally, this illuminates the need for further research on medical cannabis benefits. This should include further patient surveys like the Johns Hopkins study, along with more sophisticated studies regarding the pharmacology and physiology of cannabis compounds. It does seem that a multitude of uses are possible if not probable, but only research can give us the true details.
Feel free to reach out with questions or to schedule an appointment to discuss this topic further.