New York State Practitioner Education - Medical Use of Marijuana Course
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Syllabus Topic III: Physiological Effects and Adverse Effects of Cannabis

Any clinical discussion on medical cannabis is limited by the relative paucity of randomized controlled trials. Only a small number of clinical studies involving the therapeutic use of cannabis have been carried out to date.  And, of those studies, only short term adverse effects associated with cannabis use have been evaluated.

In general, the medical literature on physiological effects and adverse effects of cannabis use pertains to recreational cannabis use much more so than medicinal cannabis use. As such, the information presented in this syllabus topic comes mostly from studies involving recreational cannabis users who often use tobacco and alcohol, as well as other drugs (prescription and illicit drugs). 

When comparing recreational cannabis use to medicinal cannabis use in New York State, important factors must be noted.  First, cannabis used for recreational purposes is most often smoked, while smoking cannabis for medicinal purposes is strictly prohibited in NY State.  Second, the cannabis used for recreational purposes often contains significantly higher concentrations of THC and lower concentrations of CBD as compared to medicinal cannabis, and chemical compounds may be present in recreational cannabis that are not present in medical grade cannabis.  Third, unlike many new medical cannabis patients, recreational cannabis users are not cannabis naïve and in fact, may have a multi-year history of using cannabis.  Fourth, recreational cannabis users represent a different patient population as compared to medical cannabis patients.  Therefore, when recommending medical cannabis, it is essential to realize that the effects may not mirror the published studies and, analogous to any prescription medication recommendation, decisions must be made on an individualized basis with appropriate follow-up.

The discussion of this section includes a description of the effects of cannabis consumption on several different physiological systems.

For more information, please review The Medical Use of Marijuana Course Table of Contents.

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