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Study Warns of High Risk of Addiction in Medical Marijuana Users — Pain News Network

By Pat Anson, PNN Editor

Medical marijuana is often touted as a treatment for chronic pain, but a new clinical trial found cannabis provided no significant improvement to people who took it for pain, anxiety or depression. Marijuana did help people sleep better, but it also raised their risk of cannabis use disorder (CUD).

“There have been many claims about the benefits of medical marijuana for treating pain, insomnia, anxiety and depression, without sound scientific evidence to support them,” says lead author Jodi Gilman, PhD, with the Center for Addiction Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH). “We learned there can be negative consequences to using cannabis for medical purposes. People with pain, anxiety or depression symptoms failed to report any improvements, though those with insomnia experienced improved sleep.”

Gilman and her colleagues enrolled 186 people in the study and randomly assigned them to one of two groups. The first group was allowed to immediately obtain a medical marijuana card, while the second group had to wait 12 weeks before getting one. Both groups were allowed to choose their cannabis products at a dispensary, with no limits on the dose or frequency of use.

Participants in the immediate card acquisition group reported significantly more cannabis use in the study period, with nearly one in five (17%) developing CUD symptoms such as craving, tolerance and withdrawal within 12 weeks. The odds of having CUD were nearly 3 times higher in the immediate acquisition group than in the delayed acquisition group.

“This trial showed that CUD can develop at a fast rate within the first 12 weeks of medical marijuana card ownership, suggesting that those with a card may develop CUD at a similar rate as those who use cannabis recreationally and that the (medical) motive for use may not be protective,” researchers reported in in JAMA Network Open.

“Although most cases of CUD onset in the trial were mild, with 2 to 4 symptoms, these symptoms developed over a short, 12-week initial exposure. The most commonly reported CUD symptoms were higher tolerance and continued use despite the recurrent physical or psychological problems caused or exacerbated by cannabis.”

People with anxiety or depression — the most common conditions for which medical cannabis is sought — were at significantly higher risk of developing CUD than those with pain and insomnia.

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