Publication: Quality of life and recreational cannabis use

Happy (almost) New Year! 

I hope everyone is having a fulfilling and restful holiday season. 

I am very excited to share a recent research article, on which I was first author, that was published in The American Journal on Addictions. As marijuana (cannabis) is now the most commonly used illicit drug in the United States, and use is increasing, it is vitally important we understand both the positive and negative effects on users. 

Is is documented that frequent marijuana use is associated with adverse social and health effects. However, we suspected that regular recreational users must experience some benefit, as they continue to use marijuana for pleasurable effects. For this reason, we sought to evaluate the relationship between recreational marijuana use and Quality of Life (QoL), a person-centered measure that characterizes the overall sense of health and wellbeing.

We hypothesized that QoL would be unchanged or increased among recreational marijuana users, who did not meet criteria for a Cannabis (marijuana) Use Disorder (CUD) and that QoL would be lower among those who met criteria for a Cannabis Use Disorder. We reviewed all available studies that had previously investigated marijuana and quality of life and brought them results together, in one study, for the first time. 

Our search identified fourteen studies that met our very broad selection criteria. This was telling of the fact that marijuana has not been investigated to the extent it should be. For example, our Quality of Life and Smoking paper identified more than 50 such studies. Beyond being limited in number, the Marijuana studies were very variable and overall their quality was low.

We were able to learn some important details about the effects of marijuana and the relationship between marijuana and QoL. For example. with one exception, we did not identify any population for whom cannabis use was associated with improved QoL. We also found that QoL was lower in persons who used marijuana heavily, or who met criteria for a Cannabis Use Disorder. However, this association was inconsistent and the magnitude was weaker than the relationship between QoL and use of other addictive substances (including tobacco and illicit drugs).

So what is the take away, other than the need for more research into the effects of marijuana? Well... our paper suggests that heavy marijuana use, or an addiction to marijuana aka a Cannabis Use Disorder, is associated with reduced QoL. It is unknown whether reduced QoL drives marijuana use, or whether marijuana use can lead to reduced QoL. Future studies are needed to evaluate the causal relationship between marijuana and QoL.

A separate paper on the relationship between marijuana used for a medical purpose and the effects on QoL has been accepted by the Journal of Drug and Alcohol Dependence and should be publised soon! I look forward to sharing those results as well. 

Stay Tuned!

Dr. Goldenberg
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Twitter: @docgoldenberg
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Matthew Goldenberg, D.O. Matthew Goldenberg D.O. is double Board Certified in Psychiatry and Addiction Psychiatry and is a certified Medical Review Officer (MRO). He is an expert in the evaluation and treatment of mental health disorders and is an addiction specialist for adults in his private practice in Santa Monica, California. Dr. Goldenberg also provides addiction psychiatry consultations to some of the nation’s top residential and outpatient treatment programs in the Los Angeles area and is experienced in the evaluation and treatment of professionals working in safety-sensitive positions. In addition to his clinical work, Dr. Goldenberg is an active author, researcher and invited speaker at local and national conferences. He also volunteers his time as a Clinical Instructor in the Department of Psychiatry at UCLA and is an Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Cedars Sinai Medical Center.

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