Medical Marijuana Isn’t That Helpful

(Anthony Bolante/Reuters)

The medical marijuana movement presents cannabis as almost a panacea. It supposedly relieves pain, depression and anxiety, improves the appetite of people undergoing chemotherapy, etc.

Well, not so fast. It turns out there isn’t much science behind some of these claims. On the contrary, a study which has just been published in JAMA Open Network concluded that the issue has not been thoroughly investigated and, moreover, that medical marijuana cardholders have not experienced many of the purported benefits of cannabis – other than better sleep – but have seen an increase in cannabis use disorder (CUD). From the conclusion:

In this RCT, possession of a medical marijuana card resulted in rapid onset and increased incidence and severity of CUD in some participants, particularly those who were primarily concerned with anxiety or depressive symptoms. The self-reported improvement in sleep quality warrants further study of the benefits of having a medical marijuana card for insomnia and CUD risk. There was no observed benefit to obtaining a medical marijuana card for pain, anxiety, or depressive symptoms.

Please note that the issue of appetite enhancement was not addressed and indeed cancer patients were excluded from participation. It’s a shame, because this use seems clearly beneficial.

Part of the problem with getting the scientific facts about medical cannabis has been the difficulty of conducting studies due to the ridiculous listing of marijuana in Schedule 1 of the Controlled Substances Act, which means that under federal law, marijuana has “high potential for abuse” and “no currently accepted medical use in the United States” – which I objected to. Indeed, the law makes itself ridiculous by making this assertion.

Does the generally negative conclusion of this study matter in the larger scheme of things? Maybe not that much. I have always believed that the main purpose of the medical marijuana movement was to sweeten the country for the legalization of recreational marijuana. Indeed, the “letter from a doctor” to obtain the MM was often treated more as a joke than as a real limitation of access.

Now that the mission of full legalization is basically done – which I also oppose, for what it’s worth – maybe proper scientific studies on cannabis as medicine can be conducted. I hope so. Because the sooner we fully discern which illnesses cannabis actually helps – and which ones it offers little benefit – the better off sick people will be.

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