With a majority of states now permitting medical cannabis treatment, a new study has found a sharp increase in its usage over the last decade.

The study, published this month in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, found that “prevalence of US residents using cannabis for medical purposes increased significantly from 1.2% in 2013-2014 to 2.5% in 2019-2020, with an [average annual percentage] of 12.9%.”

The authors additionally noted that “many of socio-demographic and clinical subgroups showed similar significant increases in cannabis use for medical purposes.”

“In the multivariable-adjusted model, living in a state that legalized medical cannabis remained significantly associated with medical cannabis use,” the authors of the study wrote. “The study documents a continued nationwide increase in use of cannabis for diverse medical purposes between 2013 and 2020, two decades after the first state passed legalizing legislation.”

As the authors of the study noted, “Cannabis use for medical purposes is legalized across 39 states and the District of Columbia in the US.”

California became the first state to legalize the treatment back in 1996, and in the nearly three decades since, medical cannabis has been embraced in dozens more, cutting across partisan lines. 

Last year, Mississippi became the latest to legalize medical cannabis treatment when its Republican governor, Tate Reeves, signed a measure into law. 

In the last decade, more than 20 states –– and the District of Columbia –– have gone a step further and legalized recreational cannabis for adults. 

Those shifts in policy served as the backdrop of the study published this month, with the authors saying the “objective…was to evaluate temporal trends and correlates of cannabis use for medical purposes in the US.”

“Since 2013, medical cannabis use has been assessed using a dichotomous question asking whether any medical cannabis use was recommended by a doctor among those who used cannabis in the past 12 months. A modified Poisson model was used to estimate the average annual percent change (AAPC) of medical cannabis use from 2013 to 2020,” they wrote in explaining the methods used in the study. “The analyses were repeated for key socio-demographic and clinical subgroups. Data were analyzed from September to November, 2022.”

The authors said they used data “from [the] 2013-2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH).”

Qualifying conditions for medical cannabis vary from state to state, but it has been known as a particularly effective treatment for patients suffering from chronic pain, for which it can serve as a safer alternative to highly addictive prescription opioids.

A new study this month out of Great Britain found a connection between medical cannabis and improvements in health-related quality of life for patients suffering from chronic illness.

The authors of that study said that their research “suggests that [cannabis-based medicinal products] are associated with an improvement in health-related quality of life in UK patients with chronic diseases,” and that it “was tolerated well by most participants, but adverse events were more common in female and cannabis-naïve patients.”

“This observational study suggests that initiating treatment with [cannabis-based medicinal products] is associated with an improvement in general [health-related quality of life], as well as sleep- and anxiety-specific symptoms up to 12 months in patients with chronic illness … Most patients tolerated the treatment well, however, the risk of [adverse events] should be considered before initiating [cannabis-based medicinal products],” the researchers wrote in their conclusions.

They added, “In particular, female and cannabis-naïve patients are at increased likelihood of experiencing adverse events. These findings may help to inform current clinical practice, but most importantly, highlights the need for further clinical trials to determine causality and generate guidelines to optimize therapy with [cannabis-based medicinal products].”

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