Importance: Patients who use cannabis for medical reasons may benefit from discussions with clinicians about health risks of cannabis and evidence-based treatment alternatives. However, little is known about the prevalence of medical cannabis use in primary care and how often it is documented in patient electronic health records (EHR).
Objective: To estimate the primary care prevalence of medical cannabis use according to confidential patient survey and to compare the prevalence of medical cannabis use documented in the EHR with patient report.
Design, setting, and participants: This study is a cross-sectional survey performed in a large health system that conducts routine cannabis screening in Washington state where medical and nonmedical cannabis use are legal. Among 108 950 patients who completed routine cannabis screening (between March 28, 2019, and September 12, 2019), 5000 were randomly selected for a confidential survey about cannabis use, using stratified random sampling for frequency of past-year use and patient race and ethnicity. Data were analyzed from November 2020 to December 2021.
Exposures: Survey measures of patient-reported past-year cannabis use, medical cannabis use (ie, explicit medical use), and any health reason(s) for use (ie, implicit medical use).
Main outcomes and measures: Survey data were linked to EHR data in the year before screening. EHR measures included documentation of explicit and/or implicit medical cannabis use. Analyses estimated the primary care prevalence of cannabis use and compared EHR-documented with patient-reported medical cannabis use, accounting for stratified sampling and nonresponse.
Results: Overall, 1688 patients responded to the survey (34% response rate; mean [SD] age, 50.7 [17.5] years; 861 female [56%], 1184 White [74%], 1514 non-Hispanic [97%], and 1059 commercially insured [65%]). The primary care prevalence of any past-year patient-reported cannabis use on the survey was 38.8% (95% CI, 31.9%-46.1%), whereas the prevalence of explicit and implicit medical use were 26.5% (95% CI, 21.6%-31.3%) and 35.1% (95% CI, 29.3%-40.8%), respectively. The prevalence of EHR-documented medical cannabis use was 4.8% (95% CI, 3.45%-6.2%). Compared with patient-reported explicit medical use, the sensitivity and specificity of EHR-documented medical cannabis use were 10.0% (95% CI, 4.4%-15.6%) and 97.1% (95% CI, 94.4%-99.8%), respectively.
Conclusions and relevance: These findings suggest that medical cannabis use is common among primary care patients in a state with legal use, and most use is not documented in the EHR. Patient report of health reasons for cannabis use identifies more medical use compared with explicit questions about medical use.