A new study by Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) researchers has found that marijuana for medical use may result in rapid onset of cannabis use disorder (CUD), according to Science Daily.

The study, published in JAMA Network Open, has shown that getting a medical marijuana card (MMC) to use cannabis products for the treatment of pain, anxiety, or depression symptoms led to the onset of CUD in a significant minority of individuals while failing to improve their symptoms.

Lead author Dr. Jodi Gilman with the Center for Addiction Medicine at MGH said, “There have been many claims about the benefits of medical marijuana for treating pain, insomnia, anxiety, and depression, without sound scientific evidence to support them.”

“In this first study of patients randomized to obtain medical marijuana cards, we learned there can be negative consequences to using cannabis for medical purposes,” she added. “People with pain, anxiety or depression symptoms failed to report any improvements, though those with insomnia experienced improved sleep.”

In particular, Dr. Gilman found that individuals who were using medical marijuana for the symptoms of anxiety or depression were most vulnerable to developing the symptoms of CUD such as “the need for more cannabis to overcome drug tolerance, and continued use despite physical or psychological problems caused by the cannabis.”

Using MMCs, more and more people are using cannabis for medical purposes as 36 states and the District of Columbia have commercialized its use for various health conditions.

The researchers began their study in 2017 with 269 adults (average age of 37) from the greater Boston area who were interested in obtaining MMCs. They allowed one group to get MMCs immediately, while the other group (control group) was asked to wait for up to 12 weeks before obtaining a card. Both groups were followed-up for over 12 weeks.

The investigators found that the risk of developing CUD symptoms was nearly two times higher in the MMC group than those in the control group.

After 12 weeks, the team found that 10% of the MMC group had developed a CUD diagnosis. In addition, they found that 20% of people in the MMC group who had developed a CUD diagnosis sought a card for anxiety or depression.

Dr. Gilman said, “Our study underscores the need for better decision-making about whether to begin to use cannabis for specific medical complaints, particularly mood and anxiety disorders, which are associated with an increased risk of cannabis use disorder.”

She believes that regulation and distribution of MMCs must be greatly improved, irrespective of the specific health condition for which cannabis products are sought. “There needs to be better guidance to patients around a system that currently allows them to choose their own products, decide their own dosing, and often receive no professional follow-up care,” she added.