Medicinal use of cannabis

A quantitative and qualitative study of a new trend: Self-medicating with cannabis

Aims

The aim of this PhD-project is to create an overview of the illegal use of cannabis as medicine in Denmark. The aim is to uncover the motives for medicinal cannabis use as well as the experienced effects and side effects and patterns of use. Furthermore, the aim is to uncover the challenges related to self-medicating with an illegal drug and the potential stigma related to the use of medicinal cannabis. The results of the study will be valuable both to doctors and patient organisations with an interest in medicinal cannabis use within their specific patient group. Also, the results of the project can inform potential prevention- and treatment strategies, as well as future policy. 

Background

On January the 1st 2018, the Danish government launched a four year pilot experiment with the use of medicinal cannabis, covering four different indications: spasticity in multiple sclerosis, chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting, pain related to spinal cord injury and chronic pain with a neuropathic component. Nonetheless, the medicinal use of cannabis in Denmark is likely to be considerably larger than the current law permits. In numerous groups on social media, thousands of members are sharing advice and experiences on self-medicating both somatic and psychiatric illnesses with cannabis. This trend is both intriguing and concerning. Existing research indicates, that cannabis holds a vast potential as medicine. However, self-medicating with an illegal drug holds various potential health risks. In attempting to handle this challenge, we need more knowledge of the motives for using medicinal cannabis and the patterns of this subtype of cannabis use. These aspects will be explored in the project. 

The study

Using an internet based survey, the quantitative part of the study, will explore the use of cannabis with a medicinal purpose. The survey will uncover sociodemographic characteristics of the medicinal cannabis users, as well as exploring, which illnesses are currently treated with cannabis. Furthermore, we wish to know what effects and side effects the respondents are experiencing. Additionally, we are interested in uncovering patterns of use, i.e. the subtype of cannabis used, as well as frequency of use, dosage and method of intake. 

In addition to the internet based survey, we will conduct 25 in-depth semi- structured interviews with adult medicinal cannabis users to explore the process of becoming a medicinal cannabis user. The aim of these interviews is to explore in more depth both the experiences of using cannabis as medicine and the processes involved Also, we wish to learn more of the challenges of using cannabis as medicine in Denmark and of the strategies that the users employ in handling these challenges. This study will pay particular attention to the fact that medicinal cannabis users may not be a homogenous group and thus stigma and other challenges may vary, depending on which condition is medicated and how medicalised their cannabis use is.

Duration: February 2018 - March 2021.