Study Summary: Trends in U.S. Medical Cannabis

Updated: Oct 19

A July 2022 research study entitled "U.S. Trends in Registration for Medical Cannabis and Reasons for Use From 2016 to 2020" that was published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine explored the trends and metrics regarding medical cannabis enrollment in the United States.

The study reported that the passage of cannabis laws in dozens of U.S. states "has increased cannabis availability for medical or recreational purposes" and that government regulators and medical and public health policy benefits from a clear understanding of the current state of affairs. The study analyzed medical cannabis patient data from state registries, including medical marijuana license information.


Patient enrollment and registration increased "from 678,408 in 2016 to 2,974,433 in 2020," reported the research.

Results

"In 2020, 26 states and Washington, D.C. reported patient numbers and 19 states reported patient-reported qualifying conditions," noted the study. It reported that total enrollment in medical cannabis programs throughout the United States increased 450 percent in only four years between 2016 and 2020. Patient enrollment and registration increased "from 678,408 in 2016 to 2,974,433 in 2020," reported the research.


"Patients per 10,000 total population generally increased from 2016 to 2020, most dramatically in Oklahoma (927.1 patients per 10,000 population)," noted the scientists. It found that enrollment increases were greatest in states lacking adult-use (recreational) legalization (medical-only states).

However, the percentage of registered patients who experienced "substantial or conclusive evidence of therapeutic value" decreased from 85 percent in 2016 to 68 percent in 2020. The study reported that "chronic pain was the most common patient-reported qualifying condition in 2020 (61 percent), followed by posttraumatic stress disorder (11 percent)."


The study found that use of medical cannabis "for conditions or symptoms without a strong evidence basis increased from 15 percent in 2016 to 32 percent in 2020."


Conclusions

The scientists noted a significant difference in status between medical cannabis states where adult-use marijuana is also legal and those that are medical only. While enrollment in medical cannabis programs increased in states that were medical only, it decreased in those states that have legalized adult-use cannabis. Thus, adult-use legalization was revealed to cannibalize medical programs, a trend driven by a combination of patient/consumer preference, regulatory oversight, and adult-use marketing programs.


The study's authors concluded that their data and the fact that "medical cannabis programs approximately increased 4.5-fold from 2016 to 2020."

The study's authors concluded that their data and the fact that "medical cannabis programs approximately increased 4.5-fold from 2016 to 2020" means that "regulatory and clinical strategies are needed to effectively manage this rapidly changing landscape."


View the original study.


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