Research: Evidence On Medicinal Cannabis' Efficacy Divided

There are still doubts about whether marijuana is effective in treating a number of health conditions.

Australians who are using cannabis medicinally are doing so largely to treat mental health conditions, chronic pain and neurological disorders, according to new research.

But the efficacy of medical cannabis for a number of health conditions is still unclear, according to the research from the Sydney Medical School showing the patterns of cannabis self-medication among 1,744 Australians. 

Professor Nicholas Lintzeris, lead author of the study, said there is inconclusive evidence on the  effectiveness and safety of medicinal cannabis.

“While recent reviews indicate that certain cannabis products are effective for some patients with pain, sleep problems, chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting, and spasticity in multiple sclerosis, clinical trial-based evidence is still emerging for many of the conditions for which medical cannabis was used for in this study, such as anxiety, depression or PTSD,” he said.

While participants overall reported cannabis use was effective in helping them to manage their condition, numerous side effects were identified.

Among those commonly reported were increased appetite, drowsiness, eye irritation, lethargy and memory impairment.

Back pain, anxiety, depression, sleep problems, arthritis and post-traumatic stress disorder are the most common conditions participants reported as the reason they were using cannabis.

While the majority of participants said medicinal marijuana helped them manage their condition, numerous side effects were reported.

Around half of the participants reported some discomfort when trying to stop cannabis use, less than 20 per cent were classified dependant on cannabis.

The majority of respondents said they had a strong preference for medicinal cannabis to be integrated into mainstream healthcare, including for it to meet safety and quality criteria.

While the majority were consuming cannabis by smoking it either through bongs (42 percent), or joints (20 per cent), the majority indicated they would prefer using other approaches such as oral or vaporised mechanisms.

The research team will be repeating the survey in coming weeks, following the implementation of new regulations in late 2016.

Researchers will compare the current findings with future results to determine the impact of medicinal marijuana regulations.