The Yale School of Medicine defines ‘cannabis use disorder’ (CUD) as “the continued use of cannabis, despite significant negative impact on one’s life and health.”
In a recent article published in MGH Psychiatry News, Dr. Ruta Nonacs presents the results of a recent study that point out there are few, if any, benefits to use of medical marijuana for those suffering from depression or anxiety, and yet a greater risk for developing a CUD was found.
Given the proliferation of dispensaries of medical marijuana—39 states and the District of Columbia have legalized it—and widespread marketing of the drug’s alleged ability to treat a wide range of psychological and physical ailments (including pain, nausea, insomnia, depression and anxiety), this research counters such assumptions about the supposed efficacy of medical marijuana as a treatment for at least two of these conditions: depression and anxiety.
Unfortunately, countless people, including those with debilitating symptoms, have not gotten any relief by using medical marijuana. Further, many have opted to “treat” their maladies with cannabis, rather than other evidence-based treatments.
The study Nonacs cites, published by Jodi Gilman, PhD. and her associates at the Center for Addiction Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital, concludes that getting a medical marijuana card can actually raise the likelihood of one becoming vulnerable to CUD.
Using a single-blind randomized, controlled trial, the 3-year research study was conducted in the Boston metropolitan area with adults between 18 and 65 years old. One group got a medical marijuana card immediately, while the other group was asked to wait 3 months before getting a card. Each participant in the study presented with either chronic pain, insomnia, anxiety or depressive symptoms.
Both in-person visits and telephone visits were used during the period of study for both groups, including an assessment of any adverse events. Specific note was made of any CUD symptoms, assessed by investigators using the CUD Checklist for the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (Fifth Edition).
The data derived from the study demonstrated that, in adults with chronic pain, insomnia, depression or anxiety, “obtaining a medical marijuana card and using cannabis products from a dispensary increased the risk for developing CUD without significantly improving symptoms (other than sleep).” However, what was even more striking was there being almost a threefold higher likelihood of developing a CUD in those who received a medical marijuana card immediately after the first visit compared to those who waited 3 months.
It’s also worthy of noting that CUD symptoms manifested relatively quickly – each group of study participants were followed for just 12 weeks and yet a significant number reported CUD symptoms, most often a higher tolerance and continued use, in spite of what were found to be recurring psychological or physical problems caused or exacerbated by cannabis.
The researchers acknowledged further research is warranted to discern whether those using medical marijuana for health reasons face the same risk for CUD as those who recreationally use it. A key takeaway, however, is the data shows “using marijuana for a medical reason may not protect the user from developing CUD.”
Nonacs concludes by saying this study’s results align with those found in a number of previous studies, indicating getting a medical marijuana card “may pose a high risk or may even be contraindicated for people with affective disorders.”
 Yale School of Medicine. “Cannabis/Marijuana Use Disorder Fact Sheet.” 2022.
 Nonacs, Ruta, MD, PhD. “Medical Marijuana for Depression and Anxiety: Little Benefit, Higher Risk of Cannabis Use Disorder.” Massachusetts General Hospital Psychiatry News. Mar. 23, 2022.