Medical Cannabis Use Linked to Significant Improvements in Fatigue, Anxiety, Depression, and Pain

Medical Marijuana Prescription Bottle

A new study found that Australian chronic health patients using medical cannabis experienced improvements in health quality, fatigue, anxiety, depression, and pain over three months. However, no sleep quality enhancements were noted. Further research is suggested, especially for insomnia treatments.

Medical cannabis use in patients with chronic health issues is linked to significant improvements in overall health-related quality of life and fatigue levels.

Cannabis therapy is also linked to improvements in anxiety, depression, and pain levels—though no changes in sleep disturbance levels reported.

Australian patients with chronic health issues prescribed medical cannabis showed significant improvements in overall health-related quality of life and fatigue in the first three months of use, along with improvements in anxiety, depression, and pain. Interestingly, cannabis therapy did not seem to improve reported sleep disturbances, according to a study published September 6, 2023, in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Margaret-Ann Tait from the University of SydneyAustralia, and colleagues.

Historical Context and Survey Methodology

Since 2016 in Australia, medical cannabis has been approved for prescription to patients with health conditions unresponsive to other treatment. Tait and colleagues surveyed a group of Australians with chronic health conditions prescribed medical cannabis to better understand any changes in patient-reported outcomes following cannabis treatment in this population.

The authors used survey responses from 2327 Australian patients with chronic health issues prescribed medical cannabis (THC and CBD dissolved in a medium-chain triglyceride (MCT) carrier oil) between November 2020 and December 2021. Patients were surveyed about their self-reported health-related quality of life, pain, sleep, anxiety, and depression prior to beginning cannabis therapy, after two weeks of treatment, then once a month for three months.

Patient Demographics and Reported Outcomes

63 percent of the surveyed patients were female, with an average age of 51 years (range 18-97 years). The most reported conditions being treated were chronic pain (69 percent); insomnia (23 percent); anxiety (22 percent); and anxiety/depression (11 percent); half of patients were being treated for more than one condition. Patients reported significant, clinically meaningful improvements in health-related quality of life and fatigue measurements across the three months surveyed. Patients also reported clinically meaningful reductions in pain and significant improvements for moderate-severe anxiety and depression. However, though many patients were prescribed cannabis for insomnia, there were no overall improvements in patient-reported sleep disturbance.

Limitations and Further Research

The authors did not measure adverse effects as part of the study, though 30 patients formally withdrew from the study due to “unwanted side effects.” Regardless, these results suggest medical cannabis may be effective in helping manage previously untreatable chronic conditions. The authors also note that more research and development of the cannabis oil products used in this study may be needed in order to successfully treat patients with insomnia and sleep disorders.

The authors add: “Within the first three months of medicinal cannabis therapy, participants reported improvements in their health-related quality of life, fatigue, and health conditions associated with anxiety, depression, and pain.”

Reference: “Health-related quality of life in patients accessing medicinal cannabis in Australia: The QUEST initiative results of a 3-month follow-up observational study” by Margaret-Ann Tait, Daniel S.J. Costa, Rachel Campbell, Richard Norman, Leon N. Warne, Stephan Schug and Claudia Rutherford, 6 September 2023, PLOS ONE.
DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0290549

Funding: The University of Sydney received funding from Little Green Pharma Ltd. to support CR and MT to conduct this study. The funder played no role in the study design; in the collection, analysis, and interpretation of data; in the writing of the report; nor in the decision to submit the article for publication. The study was independently investigator-led and all authors had full access to all data (including statistical reports and tables) in the study and take responsibility for the integrity of the data and the accuracy of the data analysis.

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