Women are more likely to swap their prescription medication for medical cannabis, a study has found.
Researchers in the US have found that women are more likely to use medical cannabis than men – and to reduce using prescription drugs as a result. Treating fibromyalgia is among the most common reasons for using medical cannabis cited in the report.
The study, which was carried out by a team at DePaul University in Chicago, examined the behaviours of medical cannabis patients with a range of chronic health conditions in Illinois.
In the state, patients do not need a prescription, but must have one of a number of conditions to qualify for a medical cannabis card.
Researchers concluded that women ‘appear to be more likely than men’ to use medical cannabis for a range of symptoms, including pain, anxiety, inflammation and nausea.
Although previous population studies have shown that men are more likely to use cannabis recreationally, women were found to increase their consumption since qualifying for medical cannabis and as a result have ’reduced or completely discontinued’ any prescribed medications they were taking.
The study came about following interviews with medical cannabis patients about how they use cannabis, either as a complementary or alternative treatment or to reduce prescription medication altogether.
“This was a correlational, cross-sectional study, in which we were looking at potential correlates of the discontinuation of prescription medication and female gender appeared to be one of them,” lead author and associate professor in health sciences at DePaul University Dr Douglas Bruce told Cannabis Health.
“We didn’t go into the study thinking that men and women were using cannabis differently, but women seem to be adopting medical cannabis in a way that parallels with how women are more likely to access alternative and complementary treatments, such as yoga, guided meditation or acupuncture.“
The women in the study also reported ‘marginally lower levels’ of support from their primary care provider, and ‘significantly less support’ from specialist physicians than the men, which researchers believe could point to why women are more likely to look for other options.
“The study suggests interesting patterns and maps onto findings of other studies which weren’t looking at medical cannabis specifically, but alternative complementary therapy trends,” continued Dr Bruce.
“I’ve worked in public health for many years and there are feminist theories which would argue that men are less likely to seek out healthcare than women, and that women may be more likely to seek out alternatives due to less satisfaction with the medical care they receive.”
He added: “There are gendered patterns in terms of medical care utilisation and diagnoses that feed into women seeking out alternatives and being less bound by conventions regarding going to the doctor.”
The majority of women in the study reported fibromyalgia [a condition which is said to affect around seven times as many women as men] as their chief qualifying condition for medical cannabis, while in men the most common conditions were PTSD, spinal cord injury and cancer.
“We controlled for fibromyalgia, given that around 80 percent of those with fibromyalgia sufferers in the study were women, but the parameters of the final model remained the same, with the key differences being gender, the amount of support from a provider and whether the patient was treating multiple symptoms,” explained Dr Bruce.
A paper Dr Bruce and his team published earlier this year found that those with multiple symptoms were more likely to report experiencing some benefit from medical cannabis.
“Medical cannabis seems to infer the successful mitigation of a range of symptoms that may reinforce one another,” he said of the findings.
“Those who were treating multiple symptoms were more likely to rate cannabis as efficacious, which suggests some benefit in people using cannabis products instead of different classes of prescription medications to treat their individual symptoms, which is typically how they are prescribed.”
The report concludes that more ‘patient-centered studies’ on medical cannabis are needed to ‘understand differences in dosing, outcomes, beliefs, attitudes, formulations, pharmacology, and metabolism between men and women’.
“There’s a whole pharmacological universe that may be gendered, particularly in terms of how men and women metabolise these products,” added Dr Bruce.
“Medical cannabis is a real patient-driven phenomenon and one of my aims in conducting this kind of patient-centred research is that physicians will start to learn from their patients.
“More open communication within the medical practice will benefit both the patients and the provider.”
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