Study: Medical Cannabis Patients Prefer High-THC Products


In New York’s medical cannabis program, research showed that patients’ preference around potency differed among users, regardless of their health conditions.

Researchers at the University of Southern California (USC) Schaeffer Center found a high degree of variability in the potency of THC patients preferred for medical dosages. The team hopes that their findings lead to providers and patients having more discussions around dosing for the purposes of medical cannabis use.

“While the medical cannabis market is not new, there is still relatively little research on patient purchasing behavior,” said Alexandra Kritikos, a postdoctoral research fellow at USC, in a press release. “Unfortunately, our analysis suggests that patients may not be getting consistent guidance from clinicians and pharmacists and, in many disease areas, there seems to be a lack of clear clinical data on appropriate dosing.”

New York’s medical cannabis program has become one of the largest in the United States; since 2014, over 150,000 patients have joined the program.

During their investigation, researchers looked at data from an integrated single system of dispensaries to determine the 3 most common conditions on patients’ medical cards—these included chronic pain (52%), neuropathy (22%), and cancer (13%), with respective qualifying symptoms of severe pain (82%), severe muscle spasms (21%), and severe nausea (8%).

Among participants, 40% preferred to ingest medical cannabis via vaporizer, while 38% preferred tincture and 22% preferred a tablet form. Additionally, over half of patients bought high-THC products versus low-THC products, ranging from 2 mg to 10 mg of THC per dose.

According to the study findings, 41% of patients with chronic-pain preferred high-THC vaporizers. Being the most common condition, it was also linked to the most common medium of ingestion and most common potency preference.

Among patients with chronic pain, 33% chose tinctures and 25% chose tablets, each offering 10 mg of THC per dose. However, one-fourth of patients with chronic pain chose 5 mg dosages, while patients with cancer and HIV/AIDS preferred a similar dosage.

“We suspect the lack of clinical guidelines on dosing of cannabinoids for particular medical conditions has made medical providers uncomfortable talking to their patients about their medical cannabis use,” the study’s senior author Rosalie Liccardo Pacula of USC Price School of Public Policy said in the press release.

In the published study, the researchers explained that physicians should be more active in providing medical guidelines and dosage oversight. The USC study data also suggest that policymakers should consider the benefits and health effects of doses above 10 mg.

“It is imperative that this change, as drug interactions with other prescribed medications are likely but impossible to identify if medical cannabis use is not considered or recorded in the medical record,” Pacula said in the press release.

Pacula also noted that there have been claims made by certain players in the industry and among the media regarding the high potency of the medical cannabis available to patients.

“But our research in New York state suggests that medical cannabis users are consuming products that are less potent than what recreational users take,” Pacula said in the press release.


New study shows patient preference for medical cannabis products in the absence of clinical guidelines. University of Southern California; August 19, 2022. Accessed on August 22, 2022.

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