Aim: To characterize perceived benefits and challenges experienced by medicinal cannabis users.
Methods: An anonymous online survey collected demographics, health information, and open-ended responses from medicinal cannabis users regarding perceptions, motivations, and experience of treatment. Qualitative open-ended responses were thematically analyzed.
Results: Respondents (N = 808) were predominantly White (79%), female (63%), with a mean (SD) age of 38 (20). Two hundred eighty-four (35%) respondents provided data on a dependent family member (e.g., child; 22% of total sample). Most used cannabidiol (CBD)-dominant products (58%), primarily for neurological disorders (38%) or pain (25%). Primary motivations for medicinal cannabis use were based on beliefs that traditional treatments were ineffective and/or had intolerable side effects (51%), positive scientific or media portrayals of the safety/efficacy of cannabis as a therapeutic (29%), or preference for “natural” treatments over pharmaceuticals (21%). A majority of respondents (77%) attributed positive effects to the medicinal use of cannabis/cannabinoids. These included physical symptom improvements such as reduced pain (28%), improved sleep (18%), and seizure reduction (18%), and mental health improvements including reduced anxiety (22%) and improved mood (11%). Additionally, respondents reported reduced use of other medications (e.g., opioids) (12%), and improved quality of life (14%). Problems associated with use were cited by 41% of respondents, and included unwanted side effects (16%), lack of information or medical support (16%), prohibitive costs (12%), and legal concerns (10%).
Conclusion: Most participants reported benefits from cannabis use for a variety of conditions where traditional treatments were ineffective or unacceptable. Concerns regarding cannabis side effects, legality, lack of information, and cost were raised. Data indicate greater research and education on the safety and efficacy of medicinal cannabis/cannabinoid use is warranted.