In a sign that suggests medical marijuana is being used for more than medicinal purposes, a new study finds young adults who are heavy pot users are more likely to seek medical marijuana cards.
In fact, they were more likely to do so than those with physical or mental health conditions who could benefit from the drug.
“It seems that more frequent use of marijuana, and not the physical and mental health problems that one ostensibly seeks a medical marijuana card to address, is what drives acquisition of a medical marijuana card,” said study author Eric Pedersen, from RAND Corp. in Santa Monica, Calif.
The study included 264 people in California who were aged 18 to 20 between 2015 and 2017, when medical marijuana was legal in the state, but before recreational marijuana became legal in January 2018.
All of them had used marijuana at least once in the past month at the beginning of the study, but none had a medical marijuana card that would permit them to buy, possess and use marijuana.
At the start of the study and one year later, the participants were asked about their marijuana use, symptoms of depression and anxiety, and physical health problems.
At the one-year follow-up, 19% had applied for and received a medical marijuana card. Men were almost three times more likely than women to have received a medical marijuana card.
For every additional day of marijuana use at the beginning of the study, the likelihood of having a medical marijuana card one year later increased by 7%.
After controlling for other factors, the researchers concluded that physical and mental health problems at the start of the study were not significant predictors of receiving a medical marijuana card in the following year.
The study was published Dec. 4 in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.
“Making medical marijuana cards easy to obtain for vaguely defined mental or physical health conditions that are not supported by any research evidence has potential for those who use more heavily to claim need for a medical marijuana card solely to have easier access,” Pedersen noted in a journal news release.
The findings could benefit states that have legalized medical marijuana or are considering doing so, according to the researchers.
Policymakers should “design medical marijuana programs in their states that allow card acquisition only for people with mental and physical health problems that have documented evidence of medicinal benefit,” the study authors concluded.
The U.S. National Institutes of Health has more on medical marijuana.