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Can Medical Cannabis Improve Patients’ Quality of Life?

Leslie kahn


The answer seems to be yes, according to a recent self-reporting study of medical cannabis users. The results suggested that medical cannabis usage increased patients’ quality of life in several areas while reducing their use of health care resources. The study was carried out by the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Johns Hopkins University in conjunction with Realm of Caring Foundation. In this article I will explain the specifics of the study and its findings. 

With more than 2 million registered state medical cannabis patients, very little data has ever been collected on the impact cannabis usage has on patient health and quality of life. A new study was recently published  which collected such data over the course of 2 years from both cannabis users and those considering cannabis use.

The Study 

The study, A Cross-Sectional and Prospective Comparison of Medicinal Cannabis Users and Controls on Self-Reported Health, was published on June 8, 2020 in the journal Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research. It was conducted by Ryan Vandrey, PhD at the Behavioral Pharmacology Research Unit of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. 

The study was a longitudinal, cross-sectional, self-reporting, web-based survey which was completed between April 2016 and February 2018. The participants were registered patients or caregivers of patients with diagnosed health conditions of the not-for-profit cannabis research and education organization, Realm of Caring Foundation. 

There were 1,276 participants which included those already using cannabis for medicinal purposes and those considering using it. This included the following:

Test Group 

  • 524 adult patients currently using cannabis for medicinal purposes
  • 284 adult caregivers of children or of dependent adults currently using cannabis for medicinal purposes

Control Group 

  • 271 adults patients considering using cannabis
  • 197 adult caregivers considering cannabis use for a dependent child or dependent adult patient

Categories of Reported Health Conditions of Participants

  1. Neurological diseases such as MS and epilepsy
  2. Chronic pain, especially back pain 
  3. Autoimmune diseases such as fibromyalgia and lupus
  4. Cancer
  5. Insomnia
  6. Psychiatric disorders such as anxiety, depression and PTSD

Participants were asked to complete follow-up assessments every 3 months by email. 33% of the participants completed at least one follow-up evaluation at an average of 284 days following the baseline assessment.

Information Collected From Participants

  • Demographics; age, sex, race/ethnicity, place of residence, marital status, and highest level of education completed 

79% were Caucasian
63 % were female 
Majority of those age 18 or older had a greater than high school education
Cannabis users were significantly older than those in the control group 

  • Use of health care resources
  • Medication use
  • Levels of pain, depression and anxiety
  • Quality of life
  • Quality of sleep 

Cannabis users under age 18 had better overall sleep habits when compared to the control group of under age 18. They experienced the following: 

  • faster sleep onset
  • less frequent night wakings
  • fewer disruptive sleep disorders

Adult cannabis users had greater sleep quality when compared to the adults in the control group. They experienced the following:

  • faster sleep onset
  • longer sleep duration
  • fewer sleep disturbances  

Medications and Frequency of Health Care Visits 

For current prescription medications, Over-The-Counter (OTC) medications and cannabis medications, as much as possible of the following additional information was recorded for each participant:

  • Daily dosage
  • Frequency of use
  • Delivery methods

For the past 30 days, participants reported the number of the following:

  • Health care visits
  • Emergency department visits
  • Hospital admissions
  • Work/School sick days

Participants who completed the survey each month were entered into a raffle to win one of twenty $50 gift cards.

Physician Recommendations Among Cannabis Users

  • 27% reported a physician highly recommended its use
  • 45% reported a physician discouraged its use
  • 28% did not respond

Cannabis Use As Therapy

  • 11% reported cannabis as their primary therapy
  • 18% reported cannabis as their secondary therapy
  • 39% reported cannabis as a supplementary therapy
  • 29% reported cannabis as a treatment of last resort
  • 3% did not respond

Delivery Methods of Cannabis Products Used by Participants

  • 47% used cannabis tinctures or oils
  • 9% used flower
  • 8% used edibles
  • 3% used concentrates
  • 3% used topicals or suppositories
  • 31% did not respond

Cannabinoid Content of Cannabis Products Used by Participants

  • 58% used CBD-dominant products
  • 13% used THC-dominant product
  • 5% used 1:1 THC:CBD
  • 3% used CBG or CBN dominant products
  • 21% were unaware of or did not specify which cannabis products they used

Study Findings

Test Group

  • 8% greater health satisfaction
  • 9% reduction of their pain scores
  • 39% less likely to visit an emergency room
  • 46% less likely to have been admitted to a hospital in the month prior to the survey
  • 14% fewer prescription medications were filled
  • 12% reduction in their anxiety scores
  • Lower rates of depression
  • Fewer seizures

Control Group

Participants in the control group who began to use cannabis after their baseline assessment reported that they experienced significant health improvements. 

Funding

This study was funded by the Realm of Caring Foundation. Additional funding was provided by National Institutes of Health (NIH) National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA )Training Grant.

Final Analysis

The head researcher of the study, Dr. Ryan Vandrey, was not at all surprised that participants who used medical cannabis reported that they felt better than those who did not use it. However, he was not expecting participants to report that they used fewer health care resources. He felt that the results of this study demonstrated compelling validation that medical cannabis usage showed substantive medical benefit.

Dr. Vandrey went on to say that the next steps as a researcher must include investigating which specific medical conditions benefited from medical cannabis usage. He already has plans for future studies with the focus on epilepsy, anxiety and autism.

Sources:
medicaljane.com, New Study Shows Cannabis Use May Be Responsible For Improved Health and Quality of Life, Nanette Porter, June 12, 2020
medicalxpress.com, Medical Cannabis Consumers Use Less Healthcare Resources and Report Better Quality of Life: Study, June 18, 2020
liebertpub.com, A Cross-Sectional and Prospective Comparison of Medicinal Cannabis Users and Controls on Self-Reported Health, June 8, 2020