What are the odds?

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People with medical conditions such as asthma, COPD, arthritis, cancer and depression are more likely to report marijuana use, according to a new study

A large US study has looked at the prevalence and patterns of marijuana use among adults with and without medical conditions.

The study combined 2016 and 2017 US-wide surveys that collected data from a representative sample of US adult residents regarding health-related risk behaviours and chronic health conditions.

Among 169,036 participants in the study sample, adults with medical conditions had higher odds of reporting current marijuana use than those without medical conditions, especially among those with asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), arthritis, cancer and depression:

  • Age 18-34 years: adjusted odds ratio 1.8 (95% CI 1.5-2.1)
  • Age 35-54 years: adjusted odds ratio 1.4 (95% CI 1.2-1.7)
  • Age ≥55 years: adjusted odds ratio 1.6 (95% CI 1.3-2.0)

Overall 8.8% (95% CI 8.3-9.2%) of adults with medical conditions reported current marijuana use, and 3.9% (95% CI 3.6%-4.3%) reported daily marijuana use.

Nearly one-half (45.5%) of people with medical conditions reported that they use marijuana solely for medical purposes, according to the findings published in JAMA Network Open.

Over 11% of young adults with medical conditions reported using marijuana on a daily basis.

However as the sample data was cross-sectional, the researchers were unable to examine causal relationships between medical comorbidity and marijuana use.

Most adults who used marijuana (77.5%), either with or without medical conditions, reported smoking as their primary method of administration.

A smaller local survey found Australians who use illicit cannabis for medical reasons do so mainly to treat mental health issues, chronic pain, and sleep problems.

The anonymous online survey of 1,748 participants conducted in April to October 2016 found the most frequent reasons for medicinal cannabis use were to treat anxiety (50.7%), back pain (50%), depression (49.3%), and sleep problems (43.5%).

Respondents had used medicinal cannabis an average of 19.9 days of the previous 28 days, and a median of 26 of the preceding 28 days.

Participants reported high levels of clinical effectiveness, with 71-92% indicating that the treated symptom had very much or much improved.

However they also reported frequent side effects, including increased appetite (74%), drowsiness (67.1%), ocular irritation (40.7%), lethargy (37.5%), memory impairment (31.6%), palpitations (15.4%), and paranoia (15.2%) or confusion (12.4%).

The survey was conducted immediately prior to the legislation for frameworks for medicinal cannabis use being passed.

Current research suggests both short- and long-term marijuana use is associated with several adverse health outcomes, including respiratory symptoms, cognitive decline, neurological changes and psychiatric conditions such as addiction, the JAMA researchers say.

Other potential long-term health consequences include cancer, COPD and heart disease.

“Clinicians should screen for marijuana use among patients, understand why and how patients are using marijuana, and work with patients to optimise outcomes and reduce marijuana-associated risks,” said the researchers.

See the full article in JAMA Network Open here

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