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More Patients Using Medical Marijuana Than Thought

Canadian studies examine use among those with epilepsy, multiple sclerosis

TUESDAY, June 8, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- Despite limited evidence of marijuana's medicinal value, it's being used by many people with multiple sclerosis and epilepsy who believe the drug is an effective treatment, say two Canadian studies in the June 8 issue of Neurology.

One study included a survey of 136 patients from the University of Alberta Epilepsy Clinic. Nearly half said they'd used marijuana in their lifetime; one in five had used it in the past year; 15 percent had used it in the past month; 13 percent used marijuana more than 48 days a year; and 8 percent used it more than half the days of the year.

Odds of frequent marijuana use were 10 times greater for those who had had epilepsy for at least five years, and eight times greater for those who had frequent seizures.

The researchers suggest that epilepsy patients who experience more frequent seizures may be more likely to try alternative treatments such as marijuana.

"Studies suggest one-third of the general population use alternative health care on a yearly basis," study author Dr. Donald Gross said in a prepared statement.

"Not surprisingly, patients tend to look to alternative therapies in situations where conventional medicine has been unsuccessful, in particular, for chronic medical situations. The finding of increased marijuana use in epilepsy patients with longer duration of disease and frequent seizures is consistent with the findings regarding other forms of non-conventional therapies," Gross said.

It may also be possible that increased marijuana use results in increased seizure frequency, he added.

The second study included a survey of 205 multiple sclerosis patients in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Of the 34 patients who said they were medical marijuana users, more than half believed it was a very effective treatment and more than half also said they'd used it within the previous 24 hours.

Nearly 20 percent of the patients said they used marijuana more than one time a week. Eight of them said they use it more than once a day.

"We have learned several things from these patients," study author Mark Ware, of McGill University in Montreal, said in a prepared statement.

"Firstly, that pain and spasms are not the only reasons for use, and the effects of marijuana on mood, sleep and stress are important areas of therapeutic need and should be addressed in clinical trials. Secondly, there is a wide variance in doses used, ranging from single puffs to more than a gram at a time. Clinical trials will also need to include early dose-finding phases and allow for subject variability in dose adjustments," Ware said.

"Thirdly, marijuana appears to be well-tolerated, though some subjects experienced intolerable side effects and deterioration of symptoms," he added.

More information

Here's what the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration says about medical marijuana.

SOURCE: American Academy of Neurology, news release, June 7, 2004
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