Regular smokers of cannabis have some idea of its medical properties, but a recent US study has shown that their beliefs are out of step with scientific evidence.
Do cannabis users have an accurate understanding of its risks and effectiveness? A study by American researchers who questioned 500 regular smokers of the drug indicates that many of them do not.
Participants, who were selected at the "Hash Bash," a cannabis advocacy event held annually on the campus of the University of Michigan, were questioned on their use of cannabis, their knowledge of its medical properties, and the risks associated with its consumption.
The majority of participants reported using marijuana on a daily basis, 85% of them for medical reasons. About 78% reported that their knowledge of cannabis stemmed from personal experience, compared with only 23% who had consulted a health care provider or dispensary specializing in medical cannabis, and 18% who had been informed by a primary care provider.
Consumers lack awareness of the potential risks of cannabis
According to the study, which was published in The American Journal of Health Promotion, a majority of respondents believed that cannabis is effective in treating symptoms of cancer (76%) depression (72%) and epilepsy (68%). However, an assessment by the American National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM) has concluded that there is little evidence that cannabis or cannabinoids are effective in reducing symptoms of any of these, point out the researchers behind the study.
"People are using cannabis and cannabinoids for everything and anything, and we don't have enough systematic research on whether it's effective for these conditions. People are stopping or reducing prescription drugs to use medical cannabis. It's a serious issue," warns Daniel Kruger, the main author of the study.
The study also highlighted a lack of awareness of the potential risks involved in the use of the drug. For example, only 22% of respondents believed that cannabis consumption during pregnancy could be risky.
The knowledge gap identified by the study is significant from a public health perspective, warn the researchers , who call for more informed messages and policies, at a time when a growing number of US states are legalizing or considering legalizing cannabis for recreational use.