Although cannabis is an illegal drug, ‘medical marijuana programs’ (MMPs) have proliferated (e.g., in Canada and several US states), allowing for legal cannabis use for therapeutic purposes. While both health risks and potential therapeutic benefits for cannabis use have been documented, potential public health impacts of MMPs — also vis-à-vis other psychoactive substance use — remain under-explored.
We briefly reviewed the emerging evidence on MMP participants’ health status, and specifically other psychoactive substance use behaviors and outcomes.
While data are limited in amount and quality, MMP participants report improvements in overall health status, and specifically reductions in levels of risky alcohol, prescription drug and — to some extent — tobacco or other illicit drug use; at the same time, increases in cannabis use and risk/problem patterns may occur.
MMP participation may positively impact — for example, by way of possible ‘substitution effects’ from cannabis use — other psychoactive substance use and risk patterns at a scale relevant for public health, also influenced by the increasing population coverage of MMPs. Yet, net overall MMP-related population health effects need to be more rigorously and comprehensively assessed, including potential increases in cannabis use related risks and harms.
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