Medicinal cannabis not the cure, after all?

Steven Ross questions the effectiveness of medicinal cannabis and whether it should be available to the public for treating diseases

Steven Ross
18th November 2019
A new study has found that the benefits of using cannabinoids to treat mental health problems are outweighed by the risks. According to the research, there is little evidence that they are safe to use in the treatment of depression, anxiety, psychosis and other mental health issues.

The results of 83 studies conducted over 40 years, involving over 3500 patients, were analysed to look for evidence of the effects of cannabis based medicines. Currently, Australia, the US and Canada use cannabis as a mental health treatment. It has been suggested as a result of this new study that those who receive treatment should consider the possible risk factors involved.

There was some evidence that cannabis would help with chronic pain disorder, although this evidence was of low quality. The evidence suggesting that the dangers posed to mental health is much more substantial. Evidence suggested that use of cannabinoids actually increases the frequency of depression, anxiety and psychiatric symptoms.  Another risk was that young people who used cannabinoids were more likely to become dependant on cannabis.

Medicinal cannabinoids refers to any plant-based or synthetic cannabis products. The main types are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD).

The study was a collaborative effort between researchers at the University of New South Wales and University of Queensland in Australia, and the National Addiction Centre at Kings College London. They looked at studies from across the globe and pooled the results of the individual studies.

However, there are some limitations to this review however, as not all of the studies were optimally designed. The best type of study for this research would be a randomised control trial. This is because other differences between participants can be accounted for, meaning that more variables are controlled. However, this new study examined a mix of different types of trial methodologies and so some may have less validity that others. 43 of the trials looked at in this study were not randomised control trials. Moreover, some trials reportedly involved a risk of bias that could have affected the findings.

The most common mental health issue that was observed by far was depression, followed by anxiety and psychosis. Tourette’s syndrome, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder were also the focus of some of the trials.

10 of the trials involved in the study found that medical cannabis doubled the risk of side effects including worsening mental health symptoms.

It is clear that more research needs to be done on this subject in the evolving research field. There are few reliable studies that are designed for this kind of research. It might not be time to start smoking all of your problems away, but new research could well make the issue much clearer.

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