More Than One Kind of Pot Head

Is it just me? Or has anyone else noticed a growing number of studies on marijuana’s health effects as the use of “medical marijuana” increases?

Anecdotally speaking, that is. I don’t think this topic is exactly smokin’ in the medical journals. ProCon.org found 68 peer-reviewed studies in the literature from 1990 to 2010, but only 6 of them were human studies published in 2008 or later. I’m talking about a vague feeling that I’m noticing the topic more at medical meetings.

Photo by flickr user Neeta Lind (CC)

It used to be that maybe once a year a doctor speaking at an HIV/AIDS conference would roll marijuana into a talk about alternative adjunctive therapies. In the past six months alone, I’ve seen or heard discussions about medical marijuana by three speakers at two meetings. Okay, two of those were at an HIV/AIDS meeting. But, still.

Most recently, a poster at the annual meeting of the American Headache Society surveyed 139 French patients with cluster headaches about their marijuana use. The proportion that had tried marijuana in the past year was higher in this cohort (45%) than in the general French population (12%), reported Dr. Elizabeth Leroux of Lariboisière Hospital, Paris, and her associates. Among the cannabis users, 27% said they thought that smoking pot could provoke a cluster headache attack, and 43% of users said they avoid the drug during an active cluster headache period. Interestingly, 6% said that pot could either provoke or abort cluster headaches.

Among 27 patients who had tried cannabis specifically to treat cluster headache (and 20 of them tried it more than twice for relief), 1 patient said pot was “very efficient” for treatment, 6 patients said pot gave them more than 50% relief from pain, 6 patients said pot was not helpful or made the headache worse, and 14 patients said the drug’s effects on cluster headache were “variable or uncertain.” It kind of gives a whole new meaning to “pot head,” but it’s all too confusing to know what that means.

The University of California’s Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research was created in 2000, and their list of studies includes 2 that are ongoing, 11 completed, and 6 discontinued studies — a better and more organized effort than in previous decades, for sure.

On the other hand, U.S. federal policies still make it difficult to conduct marijuana research, The New York Times reported earlier this year.

So maybe there’s more smoke than substance to my perceptions of increased scientific reports on cannabis. Which is a shame, because California voters (I am one) will decide this fall on a ballot proposition to legalize marijuana use. I generally like to know the evidence both pro and con before voting on something, but in this case, there’s not a high level of data, at least medically speaking. Marijuana supporters and detractors can puff up the debate all they want, but voters will be flying on experience and instinct in deciding this one, I think, and by default will focus more on associated social and economic issues than on health.

–Sherry Boschert (@SherryBoschert on twitter)
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Filed under Family Medicine, Health Policy, IMNG, Internal Medicine, Neurology and Neurological Surgery, Uncategorized

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