Nineteen states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for medical use. Large percentages of medical marijuana users report smoking the drug to deal with arthritis pain. But lead author Dr. Mary-Ann Fitzcharles, and her team of researchers at the McGill University Health Centre in Quebec, say there's yet to be a legitimate short- or long-term study that demonstrates the effectiveness of cannabis for rheumatic diseases.
"With the public outcry for herbal cannabis therapy, governments around the world are considering its legalization for medicinal use," explained Dr. Fitzcharles. "Physicians caring for patients who are self-medicating with marijuana need to understand the health implications of using this drug. Our study aims to provide health care professionals with that medical evidence related to medical marijuana use in patients with rheumatic conditions."
The study poured over information about the drug's dosing, administration, efficacy and documented risks, ultimately concluding that short-term problems like diminished cognitive and psychomotor function and long-term issues like mental illness, dependence and memory problems outweighed any potential pain mitigation effects.
The paper pointed to a previous study that showed cannabis users were 1.4 times more likely to suffer from clinical depression.
"At this time, we cannot recommend herbal cannabis for arthritis pain management given the lack of efficacy data, potential harm from the drug, and availability of other therapies for managing pain," concludes Dr. Fitzcharles. "Physicians should discourage rheumatology patients from using medical marijuana as a therapy."
This latest paper did not include new research, but analyzed previous literature on the subject. Advocates of medical marijuana have long argued that medical research of the drug continues to operated under the assumption that it's dangerous. Research on the drug has been hard to come by, mostly thanks to the federal government's classification of the drug as a schedule 1 substance -- the most dangerous type of drug with "no accepted medicinal use and a high potential for abuse."
Last year, Sanjay Gupta, neurosurgeon and CNN's chief medical correspondent, apologized for his role in dismissing the medical legitimacy of marijuana.
"It doesn't have a high potential for abuse, and there are very legitimate medical applications. In fact, sometimes marijuana is the only thing that works," he wrote in an op-ed. "We have been terribly and systematically misled for nearly 70 years in the United States, and I apologize for my own role in that."
Only a small percentage of marijuana studies consider medical benefits, with the vast majority focusing solely on potential ill-effects.
[Arthritis Care & Research]