Objective: To explore patterns of cannabis use for medical purposes in Australia immediately prior to the 2016 legislation for frameworks for medical cannabis use. Design, setting: Anonymous online survey with convenience sample, April-October 2016. Participants were recruited through online media and at professional and consumer forums.
Participants: Adults (at least 18 years of age) who reported using a cannabis product for self-identified medical or therapeutic reasons during the preceding 12 months.
Main outcome measures: Consumer characteristics; indications and patterns of medical cannabis use; perceived benefits and harms; views on appropriate availability of medical cannabis.
Results: Most of the 1748 participants were men (68.1%) and employed (56.6%), with a mean age of 37.9 years (SD, 13.4 years) and mean reported period of medical cannabis use of 9.8 years (SD, 12.5 years). The most frequent reasons for medical cannabis use were anxiety (50.7%), back pain (50.0%), depression (49.3%), and sleep problems (43.5%). Respondents had used medical cannabis on a mean of 19.9 of the previous 28 days (SD, 10.0 days), spending a mean $68.60 (SD, $85.00) per week, and 83.4% had inhaled the substance. Participants reported high levels of clinical effectiveness and frequent side effects, including drowsiness, ocular irritation, lethargy and memory impairment; 17% met DSM-5 criteria for moderate or severe cannabis use disorder. Many reported harms or concerns related to the illicit status of cannabis. Participants believed that medical cannabis should be integrated into mainstream health care, and that products should be required to meet consistency and safety standards.
Conclusion: Illicitly sourced cannabis is used to treat a broad range of medical conditions in Australia. Future models of prescribed medical cannabis take consumer patterns of use and demand into consideration.
Keywords: Legislation, medical; Medical marijuana; Surveys and questionnaires.