Major study advises young people, pregnant women and drivers to avoid cannabis

Umbrella review of research over past 20 years says marijuana can be effective for illnesses such as epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, and chronic pain, ‘not without adverse events’

Illustrative image: A worker tends to cannabis plants at a growing facility for the Tikun Olam company near the northern city of Safed August 31, 2010. (Abir Sultan/Flash 90)
Illustrative image: A worker tends to cannabis plants at a growing facility for the Tikun Olam company near the northern city of Safed August 31, 2010. (Abir Sultan/Flash 90)

A major international study of cannabis use found that while the drug can be effective for certain illnesses, it should be avoided by young people, pregnant women, and drivers.

Dozens of experts conducted an umbrella review of over 100 top-level meta-analyses research studies carried out over the past two decades.

“Convincing or converging evidence supports avoidance of cannabis during adolescence and early adulthood, in people prone to or with mental health disorders, in pregnancy and before and while driving,” they wrote.

The review was published last week in The British Medical Journal. It looked at previous studies of the effects of various combinations of cannabis, cannabis-based medicines, and cannabinoids that were published from 2002 to 2022.

Authors found “harmful effects were noted” for pregnancies and in relation to car crashes with outcomes in the general population including “psychotic symptoms, suicide attempt, depression, and mania, and impaired cognition in healthy cannabis users.”

However, they noted that the evidence was “suggestive to highly suggestive,” apparently indicating there was not enough statistical data to report conclusive results.

They advised that “cannabis use should be avoided in adolescents and young adults (when neurodevelopment is still occurring), when most mental health disorders have onset and cognition is paramount for optimizing academic performance and learning, as well as in pregnant women and drivers.”

On the other hand, “cannabis based medicines are effective in people with multiple sclerosis, chronic pain, inflammatory bowel disease, and in palliative medicine but not without adverse events,” they said.

Researchers found cannabis to be effective in reducing seizures among those suffering from epilepsy, but came with the risk of increased diarrhea.

For those with chronic pain due to various conditions, cannabis-based medicines or cannabinoids reduced pain by 30 percent “but increased psychological distress,” researchers said. Cannabis-based products were also found to help improve the sleep of cancer patients.

Recreational use of marijuana is illegal in Israel, though the government partially decriminalized it in 2017, setting fines and treatment for initial offenders instead of criminal procedures.

Medical use of the drug for certain chronic illnesses for holders of Health Ministry-granted licenses has been permitted since the early 1990s.

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