Gender-Based Trends, Physician Support Influence Medical Cannabis Use, Prescription Discontinuation

According to the study results, women interested in medical cannabis reported marginally lower levels of support from their primary care provider and significantly less support from specialist physicians.

A new study of gender differences in cannabis use has found that women are more likely to use medical cannabis for a range of conditions and to have increased use of cannabis since qualifying for medical use, although they also reported lower levels of physician support.1

The cross-sectional study found multiple gender-associated patterns in medical use, including differing levels of primary care provider support. According to the study results, women reported marginally lower levels of support from their primary care provider, and significantly less support from specialist physicians. Notably, a majority of women in the study successfully integrated medical cannabis into their chronic condition management, despite reporting just a moderate level of support from practitioners and specialists.

Recent findings from previous studies have found that men are more likely to be experienced cannabis users before the onset of medical use, although women are more likely to substitute medical cannabis for prescription medications. The study investigators confirmed that male participants were more likely to report use before qualification for medical cannabis, whereas among prior cannabis users, women were more likely to report that their use of cannabis increased after initiation of medical use.

The investigators also noted that after performing a multivariable analysis, being female, treating more symptoms with medical cannabis, and having a higher level of physician support is significantly associated with discontinuation of prescription medication use. Given that earlier studies have found that women engage more than men in complimentary or alternative medicine (CAM) services, the authors said the lack of requirement for a medical cannabis prescription in some places may contribute to more women conceptualizing of medical cannabis as a CAM service.

Further, medical cannabis users reported a range of motivations for discontinuing prescription medications, including concerns around addiction and toxicities, as well as better management of symptoms and side effects through medical cannabis use. According to the study authors, one implication of this finding could be for primary care providers who use medical cannabis to track patients’ usage and openly discuss their experiences during office visits. The authors noted that discontinuing prescriptions after noticing reductions in usage coupled with neutral attitudes of physicians toward medical cannabis could be perceived as support for continued usage.

Finally, the authors said that given precious study findings, there may be differences in provider support for discontinuing prescriptions depending on medications and patient conditions. Notably, the investigators did not ask participants to characterize physician responses to the lack of their prescription refills, but they said the interaction between patients and providers in this situation warrants further research.


  • Bruce D, Grove T, Foster E, and Shattell M. Gender Differences in Medical Cannabis Use: Symptoms Treated, Physician Support for Use, and Prescription Medication Discontinuation. Journal of Women’s Health; October 22, 2020. Accessed November 20, 2020.