Photo: Harvard Health Publishing
A new study found cannabis use disorder may result from people who medicate with medical marijuana for pain, anxiety, or depression. The study also said that they are likely to overuse the drug in a short amount of time without any improvement to their symptoms.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse defines cannabis use disorder, also known as marijuana use disorder, as a dependence on the use of weed. People are regarded as dependent on marijuana when they feel intense food cravings or lack appetite, are irritable, restless, and have mood and sleep difficulties after quitting.
A 2021 study revealed that heavy marijuana use by teens and young adults with mood disorders (such as anxiety and depression) were more likely to have an increased risk of self-harm, suicide attempts, and death.
A medical marijuana card requires a written approval by a licensed physician, but a statement released with the study revealed that more often than not, that doctor “is not the patient’s primary care provider but a ‘cannabis doctor’ who may provide authorization to patients with only a cursory examination, no recommendations for alternative treatments, and no follow-up.”
“Indeed, the medical marijuana industry functions outside regulatory standards that apply to most fields of medicine,” the statement said.
No changes in depression, anxiety or pain symptoms
The study, found in the journal JAMA Network Open, followed 269 adults from the Boston area, with an average age of 37, who wanted to obtain medical marijuana cards. The study participants were divided into two groups: One was allowed to get cards immediately and begin use, and the other group waited 12 weeks before obtaining cards.
“The waitlist group was our comparison group, like a placebo group, but we couldn’t do ‘placebo’ cannabis,” said Jodi Gilman, lead author and an associate professor at Harvard Medical School/Massachusetts General Hospital with the Center for Addiction Medicine.
“The waitlist group continued their usual treatment, whether it was counseling, medication, etc.,” she added.
All participants could choose their choice and dose of cannabis products from a dispensary and frequency of use. They could also continue their usual medical or psychiatric care.
The study found that the people who obtained cards right away were twice as likely to develop cannabis use disorder. Ten percent of the group had developed the disorder by the 12th week, and this figure rose to 20% if they medicated with marijuana for anxiety or depression.
Respondents who immediately obtained cards saw “no significant changes in pain severity or anxiety or depressive symptoms.” But they reported improvements in insomnia and greater well-being. The study’s proponents said that the benefits of marijuana for sleep and well-being might need further study.
The research also added that it is possible that medical marijuana use may “pose a high risk or may even be contraindicated for people with affective disorders. This finding is important to replicate because depression has been reported as the third most common reason that people seek a medical marijuana card.”
“Our study underscores the need for better decision-making about whether to begin to use cannabis for specific medical complaints, particularly mood and anxiety disorders, which are associated with an increased risk of cannabis use disorder,” Gilman said.
“There needs to be better guidance to patients around a system that currently allows them to choose their own products, decide their own dosing, and often receive no professional follow-up care,” Gilman added.