Applied Evidence

Medical Cannabis: A guide to the clinical and legal landscapes

Author and Disclosure Information



A recent study considered nationwide cross-sectional survey data from the US National Survey of Drug Use and Health to examine the relationship between medical marijuana laws and CUD.32 Study findings did not show an increase in the prevalence of CUD or marijuana use among adults in states with a legalized medical marijuana program. Importantly, when researchers looked at marijuana use among adolescents and young adults, they found no increase in measured outcomes (eg, active [ie, past-month] marijuana use, heavy [> 300 d/yr] use, and a diagnosis of CUD) after medical marijuana laws were passed.32

A paucity of pediatric data

Cannabis smoke carries many of the same carcinogens found in tobacco smoke.

The adolescent brain might be more vulnerable to the adverse long-term effects of Cannabis; there is potential significant harm associated with Cannabis in children and adolescence. However, accurate data concerning risk and benefit are limited.

The most recent policy statement of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) reflects this paucity of data.33 The AAP opposes the use of medical Cannabis outside regulation by the FDA, although the organization allows for consideration of compassionate use of medical Cannabis for children who have life-threatening or severely disabling conditions. The AAP does support (1) additional research into pharmaceutical cannabinoids and (2) changing Cannabis from Schedule I to Schedule II to facilitate this process. Since the publication of the policy statement, Pediatrics, the official journal of the AAP, has published a review of medical cannabinoids and found (1) strong evidence for benefit in chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting and (2) accumulating evidence of benefit in epilepsy.34

Recognized risk: Not supporting medical Cannabis

At press time, the CDC issued a statement on respiratory illnesses reported after use of e-cigarette products. To learn more, go to

As with all medical decisions, the risks and benefits of certifying patients for medical Cannabis must be balanced against the risks and benefits of not doing so. The risks that accompany failure to certify a patient for medical marijuana fall into 3 categories:

Blocking access to a substance that has potential therapeutic benefit. More data regarding the potential benefits and risks of medical Cannabis will, undoubtedly, dispel some of the uncertainty regarding the decision to certify a patient for medical Cannabis. When you recommend medical Cannabis and certify patients for its use, you do so with the certainty that the Cannabis safety index (ie, risk of overdose or serious adverse effects) is exceedingly low.35

Continue to: Limiting patients to other medications

Next Article: