People with Medical Conditions are More Likely to Use Marijuana

People with medical conditions are more likely to use marijuana than people without medical conditions, according to the findings of a study published in JAMA.

In this study, researchers evaluated a sample of 169,036 participants (52% female) utilizing a probability sample of US adults aged 18 years and older from the 2016 and 2017 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System – a phone-administered survey that aggregated data from a sample of adults across the country regarding health-related risk behaviors, chronic health conditions, as well as preventative services. They appraised marijuana use by asking the question: “During the past 30 days, on how many days did you use marijuana or hashish?” Participants who responded they used marijuana for one or more days were categorized as current marijuana users, and those who responded that they used it 20 to 30 days were categorized as daily marijuana users. The key study endpoint was current (past month) and daily (20 days or more in the last 30 days) marijuana use.

The results of the study showed that adults with medical conditions had higher odds of reporting current marijuana use than those without medical conditions (age 18-34 years: adjusted odds ratio, 1.8 [95% CI, 1.5 to 2.1]; age 35-54 years: adjusted odds ratio, 1.4 [95% CI, 1.2 to 1.7]; age ≥55 years: adjusted odds ratio, 1.6 [95% CI, 1.3 to 2.0]). These findings were especially true among individuals with asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, arthritis, cancer, and depression. Moreover, among those  with medical conditions, the prevalence of marijuana use decreased with age, ranging from 25.2% (95% CI, 22.0%-28.3%) for those aged 18 to 24 years to 2.4% (95% CI, 2.0%-2.8%) for those aged 65 years or older for current marijuana use and from 11.2% (95% CI, 8.7%-13.6%) to 0.9% (95% CI, 0.7%-1.2%), respectively, for daily marijuana use.

Furthermore, most adults who used marijuana (77.5%; 95% CI, 74.7% to 80.3%), either with or without medical conditions, reported smoking as their primary method of administration. Adults with medical conditions were more likely than those without medical conditions to report using marijuana for medical reasons (45.5% [95% CI, 41.1% to 49.8%] vs 21.8% [95% CI, 17.8% to 25.7%]; difference, 23.7% [95% CI, 17.8% to 29.6%]) and less likely to report using marijuana for recreational purposes (36.2% [95% CI, 32.1% to 40.3%] vs 57.7% [95% CI, 52.6% to 62.9%]; difference, −21.5% (95% CI, −28.1% to 14.9%).

Physicians Should Initiate ‘Open Discussions’

“Adults with medical conditions, especially those with respiratory conditions, cancer, and depression, were more likely to use marijuana,” the study authors wrote in their conclusion. “At present, marijuana use prevalence decreases with age, even among people with medical conditions. Because public perceptions of marijuana are becoming more favorable and medical conditions increase with age, older adults might also become frequent consumers of marijuana.”

They added that, hence “continuous surveillance of marijuana use across all age groups is warranted. Clinicians should screen for marijuana use among patients and initiate open discussions with patients about the benefits and risks associated with marijuana for their comorbid conditions and long-term health. Policy makers should monitor health claims made by merchants and perceptions of benefits among consumers to ensure that patients—especially those with existing medical conditions—understand the evolving knowledge base regarding the risks and benefits of marijuana consumption.”