Most legal medical marijuana — more than 90% — is stronger than what doctors recommend for chronic pain relief, a new study finds.
“We know that high-potency products should not have a place in the medical realm because of the high risk of developing cannabis-use disorders, which are related to exposure to high THC-content products,” said lead author Dr. Alfonso Edgar Romero-Sandoval. He’s an associate professor of anesthesiology at Wake Forest School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, N.C.
Studies have shown that 5% tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) — the main psychoactive ingredient in marijuana — is enough to reduce chronic pain with few side effects, he said.
For their study, Romero-Sandoval and his colleagues looked at concentrations of THC and cannabidiol (CBD) — the non-euphoric compound in marijuana — in medical marijuana in nine states. More than 8,500 products were sampled.
Researchers found most had more than 10% THC and many had 15% or more. These are the same levels seen in recreational marijuana.
Between 60% and 80% of medical pot users use these products for pain relief. The more THC, the higher the risk of dependency and also for developing tolerance more quickly, the study authors said.
So, higher and higher concentrations may be needed to achieve the same level of pain relief. “It can become a vicious cycle,” Romero-Sandoval said in a Wake Forest news release.
“Better regulation of the potency of medical marijuana products is critical,” he said. “The [U.S. Food and Drug Administration] regulates the level of over-the-counter pain medications such as ibuprofen that have dose-specific side effects, so why don’t we have policies and regulations for cannabis, something that is far more dangerous?”
The report was published online March 26 in the journal PLOS One.
For more about medical marijuana, visit the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse.