Medicinal Cannabis Use Causing Problems Among Young Patients

Medicinal cannabis use for young patients in Canada is leading to some negative outcomes, including illicit drug use, tobacco use, and poor physical and mental health.

Medicinal cannabis use is often linked to frequent cannabis use and multiple substance use and health-related indicators for younger individuals.

A team, led by Jeffrey D. Wardell, PhD, Department of Psychology, York University, examined whether correlates of self-reported medicinal cannabis use among younger people varied as a function of the primary health condition the cannabis was prescribed for.

The Data

In the study, the investigators drew data from the 2017 Canadian Tobacco, Alcohol, and Drugs Survey for individuals aged 15-24 years who reported past-year cannabis use. The investigators also compared youth reporting only nonmedicinal cannabis use (n = 2082) to youth reporting medicinal cannabis use for physical health conditions (n = 227), mental health conditions (n = 271), or insomnia (n = 98) using regression analyses controlling for age and sex.


Younger participants reporting medicinal cannabis use for physical or mental health conditions had greater odds of reporting daily cannabis use, cannabis problems, vaporization and oral ingestion of cannabis, and tobacco use compared to young people reporting non-medicinal cannabis use only.

Those reporting medicinal cannabis use for physical health reasons also had greater odds of illicit drug use and prescription pain medication use, while those reporting medicinal cannabis use for mental health reasons had greater odds of prescription sedative use.

Both the physical health and mental health medical cannabis use groups had poorer health and mental health compared to those in the non-medicinal cannabis use only group.

The cohort of participants taking medicinal cannabis for insomnia also had greater odds of cannabis problems relative to those in the non-medicinal cannabis use only group. However, there were no other differences between these 2 groups.

“Findings provide new insight into the correlates of [medicinal cannabis use] among youth in the Canadian population, suggesting that these correlates vary as a function of the primary reason for [medicinal cannabis use],” the authors wrote.

Cannabis and Sleep

New research suggests high school students using cannabis as a sleep aid are more prone to cannabis dependency, binge drinking, and psychiatric symptoms, such as depression and anxiety.

Young people are often at a risk of sleep problems, while also being more likely to use cannabis. In addition, sleep problems often lead to self-medication in the forms of cannabis or alcohol, which could maintain or worsen these problems because of the toxic effects of these substances on sleep-related brain systems.

The results of this study show 8% of students report lifetime sleep aid use. This group endorsed greater depression and anxiety symptoms at year 1. They also reported more cannabis, alcohol, and cigarette use at both years 1 and 2 compared to their non-using peers. However, lifetime cannabis users did not report more insomnia symptoms or sleep durations.

Cannabis sleep aid use was also linked to increased cannabis dependence symptoms among students using cannabis over 1 year, as well as past-2-week binge drinking among students using alcohol and lifetime cigarette use.

Cannabis sleep aid use, on the other hand, was not prospectively associated with changes in insomnia symptoms or sleep durations.

The study, “Correlates of Self-Reported Medicinal Cannabis Use for Physical Health, Mental Health, and Sleep-Related Conditions in a Population-Based Survey of Canadian Youth,” was published online in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.

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