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September 21, 2019

More people use marijuana to treat illness than to get high, study says

A survey of more than 165,000 people found nearly half of regular marijuana users are treating a medical condition

Alternative Medicine Adult Health
Marijuana use study illnesses Thom Carroll/PhillyVoice

Roughly 46% of regular marijuana users do so because of a medical condition, compared to 22% who use marijuana for recreational purposes.

Nearly twice as many people in the United States use marijuana to treat illnesses as those who use marijuana to get high, according to a new study.

Roughly 46% of regular marijuana users do so because of a medical condition, according to a study published Friday in the JAMA Open Network, compared to 22% who use marijuana for recreational purposes. The study surveyed more than 165,000 men and women across the country between 2016 and 2017.

"Adults with medical conditions, especially those with respiratory conditions, cancer, and depression, were more likely to use marijuana," the study's authors noted in its conclusions. "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."

Hongying Dai, an associate professor at the University of Nebraska Medical Center and lead researcher on the study, told U.S. News & World Report that there's still a relative vacuum of data and information about marijuana's usefulness.

"Patients who are taking marijuana for a medical condition should be informed of evidence of efficacy and adverse effects for that condition," Dai said.

Roughly one in four 18- to 24-year-olds use medical marijuana, according to the study, compared to just 2% of people who are at least 65 years old. The most popular way to use marijuana, across all demographics, is smoking, accounting for 77.5% of regular users.

Earlier this year, Pennsylvania added anxiety disorders to a growing list of treatable symptoms in its medical marijuana program. The program currently has 23 approved conditions.

Just this week, the National Institutes of Health launched a number of grant-funded studies intended to determine whether cannabidiol, one of the active ingredients in marijuana, effectively relieves pain.

One of the studies will be conducted by Temple University researchers, and will evaluate how the effects of four different components of cannabis could protect against pain development.

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