An exhaustive study by the American Medical Association (AMA) has confirmed what current medical marijuana patients have stated for quite some time — that medical cannabis treatment improves health-related quality of life for patients with a range of health conditions.
The study, released in May 2023, followed 3,148 patients in Australia who were newly prescribed medical cannabis to treat specific eligible conditions. Each patient completed a thorough consultation with a physician prior to being added to the study to confirm their medical history and viability for the treatment. They also must have exhausted all other forms of treatment for their specific condition.
AMA Marijuana Study Basics
At the commencement of treatment, patients were asked to rate their wellness on a scale of 0-100 across eight categories:
- General health,
- Bodily pain,
- Physical functioning,
- Physical role limitations,
- Mental health,
- Emotional role limitations,
- Social functioning, and
Progress surveys were administered every 45 days throughout the course of the study for a total of 15 patient check-ins. Patients were instructed to slowly increase their dosage of cannabis, using the “start low, go slow” principle. Target dosages were determined on a case-by-case basis, with oversight by the prescribing physician to assess treatment efficacy, side effects, and medication interactions.
Results: “Significant” Improvements
Following the final check-in, researchers identified improvements of 6.6 – 18.31 points on the 100-point scale depending on the category, confirming that medical cannabis treatments significantly improved their health-related quality of life. Of note, these improvements were also largely sustained over time, as the study was conducted from December 2018 through May 2022.
Patients reported an improvement across all four physical domains (general health, bodily pain, physical functioning, and physical role limitations) when compared to baselines, which were maintained across all 15 check-ins. Specifically, bodily pain and physical role improvements were statistically significant stand-outs. Likewise, all four mental health domains (mental health, emotional role limitations, social functioning, and vitality) were observed to have similar statistically significant improvements across all 15 check-ins.
The AMA writes:
This study suggests a favorable association between medical cannabis treatment and quality of life among patients with a diverse range of conditions. However, clinical evidence for cannabinoid efficacy remains limited, and further high-quality trials are required.
Of note, 1,688 (53.6%) of patients were female and 1,460 (46.4%) were male, with a combined median age of 56. Chronic pain was the most consistent condition requiring treatment (68.6%), followed by cancer pain (6%), insomnia (4.8%), and anxiety (4.2%). Patients reported “significant improvements” across all eight baselines indicated above, with adverse side effects that were “rarely serious”. While the doses, consumption methods, and cannabinoid profiles of marijuana prescribed varied depending on the patient’s condition, treatment effects were similar across patients regardless of variations.
American Medical Association Study Perspective
This AMA study confirms the long-held belief that medical cannabis is a viable solution for patients suffering from chronic conditions who have failed to find relief through traditional means. Not only does this study confirm that medical marijuana alleviates pain, but it also shows the cannabis aids in improving quality of life and performing daily tasks that once proved difficult. From pain to anxiety, cannabis is now established as a go-to treatment option with proven positive outcomes for patients exhibiting varying degrees of condition severity.
The findings of this study are further underscored by the sustained improvement over a period of nearly 3.5 years. This not only demonstrates the effectiveness of medical marijuana, but the idea that it is a long-term treatment option for chronic conditions that previously inhibited an individual’s ability to live their life to the fullest. In addition, daily functionality is greatly improved, which has significant benefits for patient mental health. Patients once battling mental health issues due to chronic conditions such as pain, insomnia, or anxiety can now be relieved of both their physical ailments and the mental anguish they caused.
Despite the overwhelmingly positive results of these AMA findings, it should be noted that the study did confirm the continued need for safety and consistent physician oversight of medical cannabis patients. The study documented a total of 2,919 minimally adverse reactions, and although mild, serve as a reminder of the need to closely monitor. Temporary side effects noted during the course of the study included sleepiness, dry mouth, lethargy, dizziness, and gastrointestinal symptoms.
This comprehensive study by the American Medical Association is among several that support the health-related quality of life of medical marijuana. Additional studies have demonstrated that medical cannabis is tied to reduced dosages of prescribed opioids and improved cognition among cancer patients.