A new survey of 219 PatientsLikeMe members has found that patients with certain conditions who use medical marijuana believe it is the best available treatment for them, with fewer side effects than other options and few risks. The survey, conducted in June 2015, is among the first to gauge patient perceptions about the benefits and risks of medical marijuana and their level of willingness to recommend its use.
PatientsLikeMe’s Vice President for Advocacy, Policy, and Patient Safety, Sally Okun, RN said that while the number of respondents and conditions represented is limited, the survey and its results come at an important time. “As more people consider using medical marijuana, and more states legalize it, patients need to know what others are experiencing. This survey starts to gather real world data about marijuana as medicine—information that may be useful for patients and their physicians as they explore options and make treatment decisions.”
Half of the survey respondents started using medical marijuana in the last five years, while 25% started to do so in the last two years. Smoking (71%), edibles (55%), and vaporizing (49%) were the most commonly used methods for taking the treatment. The top three conditions represented were multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia and depression. Key findings are as follows:
Usage and Perceived Side Effects
- About three quarters (74%) of survey respondents agree that medical marijuana is the best treatment available for their health issue. Another 20% are unsure if there is another option available.
- 76% report that they use medical marijuana because other treatments weren’t working and/or caused too many side effects. About 21% use it to avoid the side effects of other treatments.
- When asked about the severity of side effects from using marijuana, 86% of PatientsLikeMe members who report using marijuana indicate the side effects are either “none” or “mild.” The same group says those side effects include dry mouth, increased appetite, and sleepiness.
Perceived Benefits and Risks
- Survey respondents use medical marijuana for more than one reason, including to treat pain (75%), muscle stiffness or spasms (69%), insomnia (67%) and anxiety (55%). The majority (63%) considered marijuana as a treatment option because they think it is more natural.
- Most (93%) say that they would recommend medical marijuana to another patient.
- About 61% say their healthcare provider is supportive of their medical marijuana use, and 60% have a letter of recommendation or prescription.
- Most patients report a low level of concern (“Not at all” or “A little”) with long-term health risks, such as developing lung cancer (89%), long-term lung damage (86%), or becoming addicted/dependent (96%).
- One in four patients (26%) report being “Somewhat” or “Very” concerned with legal problems.
Infographics on these and other survey results and the complete list of questions and responses are available at http://news.patientslikeme.com.
David Casarett, M.D., a professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine and the author of the newly-released book STONED: A Doctor’s Case For Medical Marijuana, worked with PatientsLikeMe on the survey. “This is an important first step in crowdsourced science about medical marijuana. Until we have a lot more large, high-quality clinical trials, patients will need to rely on each other to learn about whether and how medical marijuana might help them.”
Medical marijuana refers to the use of the cannabis plant as well as synthetic THC and cannabinoids as medicine. It is legal in Canada, Belgium, Australia, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Spain, and in some U.S. states.
Between May 26 and June 10, 2015, PatientsLikeMe invited 1,288 members who added medical marijuana to their profile to respond to the survey; 219 completed it. The mean age of the respondents was 49 years (SD: 12.2); the age range was 19 – 84 years. Most respondents (81%) reported their location as the United States, while 13% are from Canada and the rest are from Australia, Europe, South Africa or Israel. Four respondents did not report their location.
PatientsLikeMe® (www.patientslikeme.com) is a patient network that improves lives and a real-time research platform that advances medicine. Through the network, patients connect with others who have the same disease or condition and track and share their own experiences. In the process, they generate data about the real-world nature of disease that help researchers, pharmaceutical companies, regulators, providers, and nonprofits develop more effective products, services and care. With more than 350,000 members, PatientsLikeMe is a trusted source for real-world disease information and a clinically robust resource that has published more than 60 peer-reviewed research studies. Visit us at www.patientslikeme.com or follow us via our blog, Twitter or Facebook.