Assessing Cannabis Use Disorder in Medical Cannabis Patients

Interim Analyses from an Observational, Longitudinal Study


  • Kelly Sagar McLean Hospital/Harvard Medical School
  • Mary Kathryn Dahlgren McLean Hospital/Harvard Medical School
  • Rosemary Smith McLean Hospital
  • Ashley Lambros McLean Hospital
  • Staci Gruber McLean Hospital/Harvard Medical School


Background: To date, no studies have directly assessed potential cannabis use disorder (CUD) in medical cannabis (MC) patients pre- vs post-MC treatment. Given that MC patients use cannabis for symptom alleviation rather than intoxication, we hypothesized that MC patients would exhibit few symptoms of CUD after initiating MC treatment.

Methods: As part of an ongoing observational, longitudinal study, 54 MC patients completed baseline assessments prior to initiating MC use and returned for at least one follow-up assessment after three, six, and/or twelve months of a self-selected MC treatment regimen; detailed MC treatment information was collected and quantified. All patients completed the Cannabis Use Disorder Identification Test - Revised (CUDIT-R) at each visit. Changes in individual items scores and total scores were assessed over time, and we examined whether total CUDIT-R scores correlated with frequency of MC use, delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) exposure. Further, Cronbach’s alpha analyses were conducted to provide preliminary data regarding the psychometric properties of the CUDIT-R when used among MC patients.

Results: Although total CUDIT-R scores increased relative to baseline, on average, ratings fell below the ‘hazardous use’ threshold at each visit. Analyses of individual items revealed that increases in total scores were primarily attributable to increases in frequency of use and not necessarily other aspects of problematic use. Total CUDIT-R scores were not associated with number of MC uses or CBD exposure, but a significant relationship was detected between increased THC exposure and higher CUDIT-R scores. Importantly however, analyses revealed that the CUDIT-R does not appear to be an appropriate tool for identifying CUD in MC patients.

Conclusions: Screening tools specifically designed to assess CUD in MC patients are needed and should distinguish between frequent use and problematic use; exposure to individual cannabinoids must also be considered.


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Original Report