Background: A growing number of countries are providing pharmaceutical grade cannabis to chronically ill patients. However, little published data is known about the extent of medicinal cannabis use and the characteristics of patients using cannabis on doctor's prescription. This study describes a retrospective database study of The Netherlands.
Methods: Complete dispensing histories were obtained of all patients with at least one medicinal cannabis prescription gathered at pharmacies in The Netherlands in the period 2003-2010. Data revealed prevalence and incidence of use of prescription cannabis as well as characteristics of patients using different cannabis varieties.
Results: Five thousand five hundred forty patients were identified. After an initial incidence of about 6/100,000 inhabitants/year in 2003 and 2004, the incidence remained stable at 3/100,000/year in 2005-2010. The prevalence rate ranged from 5 to 8 per 100,000 inhabitants. Virtually all patients used some form of prescription medication in the 6 months preceding start of cannabis use, most particularly psycholeptics (45.5 %), analgesics (44.3 %), anti-ulcer agents (35.9 %) and NSAIDs (30.7 %). We found no significant association between use of medication of common indications for cannabis (pain, HIV/AIDS, cancer, nausea, glaucoma) and variety of cannabis used.
Conclusions: This is the first nationwide study into the extent of prescription of medicinal cannabis. Although the cannabis varieties studied are believed to possess different therapeutic effects based on their different content of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), no differences in choice of variety was found associated with indication.