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Cannabis Use Common Among California Primary Care Patients

Most patients who reported using cannabis only for recreational purposes had also used it at some point for medical purposes according to a recently published UCLA study.

The study involved analysis of patients’ health records (de-identified) at UCLA that were collected from January 2021 to May 2023. The aims of the research were to determine the prevalence, correlates and reasons for current cannabis use.

Of the 176,000 patients who completed pre-visit screening surveys for annual checkups, close to 30,000 (17%) reported cannabis use. 47% of those patients, while mostly identifying as recreational users, consumed cannabis for medical reasons. Where cannabis was being used for a health condition, 76% used it to manage symptoms such as mental health issues or stress (56%), sleep (56%), and pain (37%).

Lead author of the study Dr. Lillian Gelberg says it’s important for doctors to ask their patients about cannabis use.

“Not asking patients about their cannabis use results in a missed opportunity for opening up doctor-patient communication regarding use of cannabis generally and for management of their symptoms.”

It’s also important because cannabis products – even if just CBD – can interact with other medicines that may be prescribed; potentiating or dampening their effects, or creating other complications.

“Integrating screening efforts to include information regarding cannabis use for symptom management could help enhance the identification and documentation of medical cannabis usage, particularly in the healthcare context,” states the study.

But currently, few healthcare systems have such screening in primary healthcare settings, even though the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommended in 2020 doctors screen their adult patients for use of cannabis – and other substances

This could also help with intervention where cannabis use may have reached problematic levels.  Among the cannabis user group in the UCLA study, 35% had results suggesting moderate- to high-risk for a cannabis use disorder (CUD), determined through the use of the WHO Alcohol Substance Involvement Screening Test (ASSIST).

Limitations of the study included potential hesitation to reveal cannabis use due to stigma, and the fact data was collected during the height of COVID, when lockdown may have triggered higher incidence of cannabis use

The findings have been published in JAMA Network Open.

Gillian Jalimnson
Gillian Jalimnson is one of Hemp Gazette's staff writers and has been with us since we kicked off in 2015. Gillian sees massive potential for cannabis in areas of health, energy, building and personal care products and is intrigued by the potential for cannabidiol (CBD) as an alternative to conventional treatments. You can contact Gillian here.

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