J Psychopharmacol. 2021 Feb 17:269881120986393. doi: 10.1177/0269881120986393. Online ahead of print.
Cannabis has been legalised for medical use in an ever-increasing number of countries. A growing body of scientific evidence supports the use of medical cannabis for a range of therapeutic indications. In parallel with these developments, concerns have been expressed by many prescribers that increased use will lead to patients developing cannabis use disorder. Cannabis use disorder has been widely studied in recreational users, and these findings have often been projected onto patients using medical cannabis. However, studies exploring medical cannabis dependence are scarce and the appropriate methodology to measure this construct is uncertain. This article provides a narrative review of the current research to discern if, how and to what extent, concerns about problems of dependence in recreational cannabis users apply to prescribed medical users. We focus on the main issues related to medical cannabis and dependence, including the importance of dose, potency, cannabinoid content, pharmacokinetics and route of administration, frequency of use, as well as set and setting. Medical and recreational cannabis use differs in significant ways, highlighting the challenges of extrapolating findings from the recreational cannabis literature. There are many questions about the potential for medical cannabis use to lead to dependence. It is therefore imperative to address these questions in order to be able to minimise harms of medical cannabis use. We draw out seven recommendations for increasing the safety of medical cannabis prescribing. We hope that the present review contributes to answering some of the key questions surrounding medical cannabis dependence.