Who Are America's Medical Marijuana Patients

Analysis by California NORML coordinator Dale Gieringer, Ph.D
An interesting new study of the California medical cannabis user population by Prof. Craig Reinarman et al. appears in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs 43(2) Apr-Jun, 2011: “Who Are Medical Marijuana Patients? Population Characteristics from Nine California Assessment Clinics”.
Noteworthy findings:
*Medical cannabis use is higher than average among Blacks and Native Americans, lower among Latinos and Asians.
*73% of patients are male.
*Use is heaviest in the 25-44 year age group.
*Leading indications:
82.6% for pain
70.7% to improve sleep
55% for “relaxation”
41% for muscle spasms
41% for headaches
38% for anxiety
28% for nausea
26% for depression
51% use as a substitute for prescription medication (showing that medical cannabis may offer significant health cost savings)
Medical cannabis users report significantly lower alcohol & cocaine use than the average population,  supporting the substitution theory that more cannabis use may lead to less abuse of other drugs.

Abstract – Marijuana is a currently illegal psychoactive drug that many physicians believe has substantial therapeutic uses. The medical literature contains a growing number of studies on cannabinoids as well as case studies and anecdotal reports suggesting therapeutic potential. Fifteen states have passed medical marijuana laws, but little is known about the growing population of patients who use marijuana medicinally. This article reports on a sample of 1,746 patients from a network of nine medical marijuana evaluation clinics in California. Patients completed a standardized medical history form; evaluating physicians completed standardized evaluation forms. From this data we describe patient characteristics, self-reported presenting symptoms, physician evaluations, other treatments tried, other drug use, and medical marijuana use practices. Pain, insomnia, and anxiety were the most common conditions for which evaluating physicians recommended medical marijuana. Shifts in the medical marijuana patient population over time, the need for further research, and the issue of diversion are discussed.

80 thoughts

  1. I need a sign like the article has,I have had 18 major surgeries,the 19th is on the horizon, reefer helps ignore the pain,I do take less script pills when I have a quaility level of reefer,but I live in Ohio and am screwed,1 hour away in Michigan they have medical reefer, honestly folks we are not what the stereotype makes us out to be.

  2. I can NOT say for others but when I was 16-17 years old and first started to smoke pot I mostly drank until I discovered a simple truth. No hang over it didn’t make me throw up and no matter how much I smoked I could ALWAYS remember the night before. Now I have chronic pain, MS and diabetic neuropathy but still live in a state were MEDICAL pot is still not legal. Why is that the politicians are so afraid of and why are they dictating medical policy I have yet to see a doctor make political law? Just sayin.

  3. Cannabinoid receptors within the brain. Cannabinoid? Cannabis? I don’t believe in coincidence.
    “So look at the date — 1937 — what’s going on in this country? Well, a lot of things, but the number one thing was that, in 1936, President Franklin Roosevelt was reelected in the largest landslide election in this country’s history till then. He brought with him two Democrats for every Republican, all, or almost all of them pledged to that package of economic and social reform legislation we today call the New Deal.”
    “And, did you know that the American Medical Association, from 1932, straight through 1937, had systematically opposed every single piece of New Deal legislation. So that, by 1937, this committee, heavily made up of New Deal Democrats is simply sick of hearing them: “Doctor, if you can’t say something good about what we are trying to do, why don’t you go home?”
    “So, over the objection of the American Medical Association, the bill passed out of committee and on to the floor of Congress. Now, some of you may think that the debate on the floor of Congress was more extensive on the marijuana prohibition. It wasn’t. It lasted one minute and thirty-two seconds.”
    “The entire debate on the national marijuana prohibition was as follows — and, by the way, if you had grown up in Washington, DC as I had you would appreciate this date. Are you ready? The bill was brought on to the floor of the House of Representatives — there never was any Senate debate on it not one word — 5:45 Friday afternoon, August 20. Now, in pre-air-conditioning Washington, who was on the floor of the House? Who was on the floor of the House? Not very many people.”
    “In the Senate there never was any debate or a recorded vote, and the bill went to President Roosevelt’s desk and he signed it and we had the national marijuana prohibition.”
    Thanks B&W.

  4. “Immediately after the passage of the national marijuana prohibition, Commissioner Anslinger decided to hold a conference of all the people who knew something about marijuana — a big national conference. He invited forty-two people to this conference. As part our research for the book, we found the exact transcript of this conference. Ready?”
    “The first morning of the conference of the forty-two people that Commissioner Anslinger invited to talk about marijuana, 39 of them got up and said some version of “Gee, Commissioner Anslinger, I don’t know why you asked me to this conference, I don’t know anything about marijuana.”
    “That left three people. Dr. Woodward and his assistant — you know what they thought.”
    “That left one person — the pharmacologist from Temple University — the guy with the dogs.”
    “And what do you think happened as a result of that conference? Commissioner Anslinger named the pharmacologist from Temple University the Official Expert of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics about marijuana, a position the guy held until 1962. Now, the irony of trying to find out what the drug did after it had been prohibited — finding out that only one person agrees with you — and naming him the Official Expert, speaks for itself.”
    Thanks B&W.

  5. It also help epileptics. Marijuana makes my epileptic auras stop.And I tried Marinol and all it did was make me physically sick.

  6. I find it quite hilarious that our President of these fine United States [will] legally have access to medical cannabis distribution centers (Washington D.C), provided he receives the proper medical advisory from an authorized physician, while most of the remaining country is on their knees to the Federal government over medical cannabis access.

  7. “Look, the people you are after are the people you depend on. We cook your meals, we haul your trash, we connect your calls, we drive your ambulances. We guard you while you sleep. Do not… f*** with us.” Fight Club
    Medical marijuana patients are American citizens first and foremost.

  8. I learn something new here every day.
    On the other hand, I hear the same old false propaganda on the news. Today a talking head said that medical marijuana was the biggest scam ever. I would love to debate her on the subject.
    Aren’t there millions of Americans who are taking legal hard drugs (prescriptions) for cronic pain who could be helped by medical marijuana? How could anyone argue to keep this medicine from them?

  9. I got approved for medical cannabis in May of this year. It has made a huge difference in my life. It has done far more than I hoped it would. To say I am amazed is an understatement. Cannabis needs to be legal for everyone.

  10. I have suffered over arthritis and migraine headaches and even whooping cough.
    Lady that’s terrible they done that to you over a little bit of marijuana but, all jail cells are’nt created equal.
    Join the official confederacy state flag preservation society. Once you get your confederacy marijuana pendant we can runble and tumble rumble and tumble together lady then we can find and meet the lucky jewish people far and low and not need the McDonalds nastiness people of the country.
    Don’t ya yearn for me don’t ya yearn for me you oughta I’m a rebel in a so called free country for a cause it’s called getting rich and legalizing marijuana in more states in the nation in my spare time.
    We should disspell that drug legalization myth is helpful economically to everyone equally cause it’s not. Drugs destroy everything they come in contact with. Americans can’t handle corrupt rulership or a drug scandal half the time.

  11. Uhhhmmm. Even without the male stat ant the stat on substitutions you have 381.3 %. how does that work?

  12. What are the numbers for patients who use medical cannabis for hypertension? Are they listed separately or are they listed in some other category such as stress?

  13. JUL 21 – WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Drug Enforcement Administration today announced the results of Project Delirium,
    a 20-month series of investigations nationwide targeting the La Familia Michoacana cartel. DEA Administrator Michele M. Leonhart announced the results of the largest strike against La Familia in the United States: 1,985 arrests, $62 million in U.S. currency, and approximately 2,773 pounds of methamphetamine, 2,722 kilograms of cocaine, 1,005 pounds of heroin, 14,818 POUNDS of marijuana and $3.8 million in other assets. Over 70 of these arrests took place yesterday and today, and over 200 have
    been arrested since June 1.
    “Project Delirium is the second successful, strategic and surgical strike to disrupt and destroy one of the most violent Mexican cartels, La Familia,” said Administrator Leonhart. “Through their violent drug trafficking activities, including their hallmark of supplying most of the methamphetamine imported into the United States, La Familia is responsible for recklessly and violently destroying countless lives on both sides of the border. The strong joint efforts with our Mexican and U.S. law enforcement partners are crippling this brutal organization by capturing its leaders, strangling its distribution networks, and relentlessly pursuing its members and those who facilitate them.”
    May we say it again over 60 percent of the narcotics seized was marijuana. If you do not understand what that means, it means that between the heroin,exstacy,meth,coke,pcp comming in the united states the only one keeping the Cartels in buisness is marijuana. So if OUR government regulated marijuana like alcohol there would not be the black market aspect and therefore would shut down most of the cartels operation down. Let us not forget that firearms being sold second handed are being modified and sold for up to 5000 percent of the normal price being sold down in Mexico to the trafficers and Cartel members fueling the battle further. Is it drugs that hurt this country or is it the ignorence of goverment outlook?

  14. I use mj for depression, but also as a stimulant for creative thought, concentration (I have ADHD), irritable bowel syndrome, and a realistic and strong self-confidence. Without mj, I would never have started the Green Revolution (http://www.facebook.com/pages/Green-Revolution/214421608601545) Without it, I wouldn’t have gone back to university. I think that what gets overlooked in mmj is its ability to relax a person, decreasing worry and anxiety and enabling a person to “live in the moment” (currently, a highly effective psychotherapy, DBT or Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, stresses “living in the moment” as its main premise). Long term use of mmj has beneficial side effects when not using mmj–it broadens your perception and generates a general feeling of hopefulness. I truly believe that this drug is a highly effective tool for psychotherapy, and general self-awareness.
    Like I’ve said before, with all the good reasons to legalize, there’s no reason NOT to.

  15. Mankind,the human race just as it has always been and still is and always shall be. That is who it belongs to.

  16. I’m beginning to doubt our govts mental capabilities when it comes to making any decisions that actually are good for our country!

  17. I don’t need the government to micro manage what medicines My doctor and I decide may work for me.

  18. “Medical cannabis users report significantly lower alcohol & cocaine use than the average population, supporting the substitution theory that more cannabis use may lead to less abuse of other drugs.”
    We need more studies stating the same. I’m so tired of prosecutors referring to marijuana as a “gateway drug.”

  19. 55% use pot for relaxation. Putting quotation marks around the word ‘relaxation’, as Reinarman’s piece has, suggests that relaxation is a falsehood & that it is not being used for relaxation. Relaxation is called for though, especially for the increasingly abused & neglected working class of the US, so those patronising quotation marks are stupid. These “good” researchers should use better punctuation in the future.

  20. After 10 years of prescription pain medication, I was eventually taking up to and sometimes over 400mg per day. The psychological pain started to overrule my common sense. I would run out after just two weeks, then have to spend untold amounts of money to keep me in pills.
    As of July 5,2011, I am proud to say that I have not had a pain pill in 18 days. Two hits, two times a day, of my marijuana, takes the edge off of my pain enough so, that I can “get through” my daily obligations.
    I am appalled at the number of doctors who are willing to prescribe a deadly amount of opiates to a patient. The pharmicutical companies are getting rich, people are dying as a direct response to the opiate addiction crisis in this country.
    Legalize Marijuana NOW, so innocent people, like myself, can have an alternative option for chronic pain control.

  21. @20 – Karen Shel: Bravo! Your reasons for using mj are exactly the same as mine and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that! I am not currently depressed but it has helped me (big time) get through those times. My favorite kind of mj is a good sativa that can greatly enhance creativity and certain kinds of abilities (like game playing; e.g. chess, juggling, martial arts, and the degree of enjoyment felt while doing things like hiking or bicycling). The only reason it is not legal, right now, is pure greed (and in some cases extreme ignorance) on the part of our politicians and lawmakers. It’s really pretty pathetic!

  22. Law-makers, politicians, and bureaucracies such as the DEA should have no say in what is and is not of medical use. In fact, everything I was taught in school says that the government is supposed to be listening to us, the citizens, and acting based on what we want; not based on what the people who run the global banks and our federal reserve, pharmaceutical industries, and every other high profile industry there is today say. Legalizing cannabis federally, even at a medicinal only level, hurts the pharmaceutical industry. Think of how many of their side-effect bearing, sometimes possibly deadly drugs this one plant replaces. I only speak for myself but I know for me cannabis replaces pills for nausea, anxiety, pain (in most cases), mood elevation, insomnia, appetite stimulants, and I’m sure there’s more not coming to mind right now. Every bit of research I can find suggests that prior to getting my MMJ card, I was doing a decent bit of damage to my body. I was in a roll-over car accident a few years back that left me with shoulder pain doctors said will never fully go away. doctors had me taking muscle relaxers and vicodin constantly. To the extent that now I have a pretty good tolerance to vicodin and when I actually need pain pills they don’t work as well as they should. Cannabis, in my honest opinion, and the fact that I was using it daily at the time is what saved me from an addiction to opiates. And I am sure now, 3 years later, that if it wasn’t for cannabis I’d still be suffering daily.

  23. Those of us who have worked with patients know from experience that the “typical” patient has had a long and miserable interaction with the medical establishment. Often they have been discriminated against by physicians who refuse to prescribe narcotics if the patient is registered in a cannabis program. The trend is changing though and physicians are beginning to realize that there is a significant decrease in narcotics by using cannabis, and this has huge potential to mainstream cannabis everywhere. Thanks, Nurse ED

  24. n e one relize that opiates/codiene is Opium derived natural or syntheic? synthetic heroin for the people? Yet no one can vote for a plant that has scientist believing it has tumor slowing aspects? thanks alot we ALL want you to control us federalist. pfft…F%ck You!! We might not have a harvard or yale degree but we do have numbers and ideas..

  25. it’s a shame the way the goverment and money keeps turn the people who put then where they are. VOTE ALL the bumbs out off office. the U.S. is so back wards it isn’t funny. Ya lets keep alchol legal that does more damage the pot. leglize it and quit making the people play the goverments games. makes me mad that people like this lady and others have to suffer because of a bunch of crooked politions.

  26. The South’s Medical Marijuana Users live in fear of being arrested on a daily basis, simply for relieving pain and the many symptoms listed in this article. Please help the South achieve Safe Access Protection under the law. We need your help!

  27. I am chronic pain patient on 480mg Oxycontin,180mg Roxicodone and 300mg Nuycenta daily.Along with 40mg Marinol which makes me paranoid as hell.I would have died w/o cannabis as I lost over 170lbs during a bad cyclic vomiting month.I live in NY where legalized cannabis is a pipe dream.NY is more worried about gay marriage than passing the legal med pot bill thats sits in house for last 4 years.

  28. ” But, but, but it was the Marijuana “, of course this is what Big alcohol will have you believe…….
    Troubled singer Amy Winehouse was found dead in her home yesterday afternoon: a death caused by ecstasy and alcohol sources say.
    Winehouse, one of the most talented singers of her generation whose hit song “Rehab” summed up her struggles with addiction, died in London on July 23 at the age of 27.
    Flowers and tributes are seen outside the home of Amy Winehouse in London July 24, 2011. Winehouse, one of the most talented singers of her generation whose hit song “Rehab” summed up her struggles with addiction, died in London on July 23 at the age of 27.
    Get summaries of the top business news from a global perspective Sample
    The death caps the end to a short life and even shorter career.
    While the official cause is not declared yet, Winehouse, publically battled with drugs and alcohol, and police reports indicate she fought her final battle.
    “Police were called by London Ambulance Service ­shortly before 4.05pm following reports of a woman found deceased. ­Officers found a 27-year-old female who was pronounced dead at the scene,” a spokesman for ­Scotland Yard told UK’s Mirror. “This looks like she has died after a drink and drugs binge.”
    Sources also told the Mirror that she died from a “bad” ecstasy pill combined with huge amounts of alcohol and the fact she suffered from emphysema .

  29. All I know is that I had to leave the military and government service due to related conditions because of events overseas. No therapy really worked, doctors just played things off and suggested taking prescription medications, but I didn’t want to go down that road. I then started drinking more, ended up an alcoholic with more problems piling up due to no real help.
    When I left service, I started smoking again…since that very first day I have not had problems sleeping, my physical ailments have disappeared, psychologically I find myself better than I was even before the service, but here is my problem…
    I stopped again to maybe have a chance at getting a job, as I am still unemployed, but I cannot find one, and since I stopped, sleep issues have come back and some (not all) of my old self has tried to come back.
    My life was manageable and repairable when using marijuana for medical reasons, but now I cannot find work that will not drug test, am a veteran of a bullshit war that shouldn’t even exist, and have no money and hiding my vehicle as to not get repossessed. Thank you U.S. Government for showing your true colors….I am ashamed at times to say that I served now…

  30. Is mm really cheaper than the oxicoten it take for pain?
    I receive soc sec dis each month and am unable to work.

  31. NORML needs a little place on their website to write comments when you’re under the influence of cannabis. Maybe not since people just wouldn’t understand the fluky proverbs, haha (like this)!

  32. @42 Robert – As an ex-marine, I served during the 70’s, I can tell you that knowing what I know now about our Govt I would not have served! By ignoring science and the will of the people regarding the subject of prohibition I have lost all respect for the majority of our elected leaders. I love my country and always will, but our leaders seem more like a mafia the way they make their decisions and try to control us.

  33. For the sake of argument – lets say that everyone on this planet used the most widely used substance on this planet [cannabis]. This equates to huge profit – not only in the substance itself – but – in the prohibition of the substance as well. Hilary Clinton said – “There’s too much money in it to legalize it.” Well there’s the answer to all your questions. The profiteers simply won’t give up that kind of profit – and – they will use “any means possible” [at their disosal] to protect that income. Here’s the question: “Is this the kind of so called representative you want running your life?” Well then do something about it – vote their asses so far out of office – they couldn’t find their way back with a pack of blood hounds.

  34. Pretty much anything regarding cannabis that is going on in MMJ states is also applicable to non-MMJ states. You can add substituting cannabis for alcohol to the text about cannabis being substituted for prescription medication.
    55% for “relaxation”
    38% for anxiety
    26% for depression
    51% use as a substitute for prescription medication
    (showing that medical cannabis may offer significant
    health cost savings)
    For whatever the reason, people don’t want anything about relaxation needed from stress, anxiety or depression in their medical records (employers have access to it legally) or they have had it with a dispassionate and herd ’em in and herd ’em out medical establishment or whatever the specifics.
    This would be especially so in non-MMJ states because they can’t come out of the shadows. They’re just getting it on the streets…still. Anybody who thinks that just because it’s out of sight in non-MMJ states that it’s not happening there too is simply in denial. Now is as good a time as any for the Feds to stop throwing money down the money pit. I mean, does their memo, their position, really make them think that all the cannabis dispensaries are just going to close up shop? Like I keep saying, the Feds don’t have enough money to arrest, prosecute and incarcerate everyone breaking federal law, from patients to the whole supply chain. Congress might as well get out of the cannabis prohibition business. Where are all these pothead libertarian tea party politicians, Ayn Rand types? Why are they remaining silent on chopping cannabis prohibition?

  35. This stuff STILL isn’t legal? What kind of crack-addict politicians do we have running the country? Even a child can see the potential benefits of legalizing such a useful substance. But I guess politicians are one peg lower on the totem pole than children when it comes to intelligence/logic..

  36. If I could use cannabis legally I would save my wifes insurance thousands of dollars.Oxycontin is way expensive and so is Marinol.I grow awesome gear but haven’t done so in 5 years due to being too ill and scared to do it.Being scared makes your illness worse.It does mine.Not only that but opiates make me sicker than a dead dog so I could say good bye to playing the Porcelin Tuba every morning at 5am.On my hands and knees daily puking my ass off to get what little relief I get from opiates,isn’t worth it.I use cannabis for pain,to get hungry and keep my food down and to try and get sleep.I avg arond 10 hours for 5 days and thats too little when you are also an insulin dep.diabetic.Cannabis saved my life but the fear of arrest and losing things my wife and I worked hard for is scary.

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