The results of a study that analyzed data from 600,000 Spanish residents who regularly use cannabis indicate that long-term cannabis use does not contribute to the deterioration of health.
Cannabis use in Spain
Cannabis consumption among the Spanish population is one of the highest in Europe after France. The personal and private use of cannabis is decriminalized in Spain, with consumption or possession in public subject to a fine.
Published in the journal Cannabis and Cannabinoid Researchresearchers used a sample of 419 subjects among the 600,000 respondents of a 2019–2020 national population survey who lived in Catalonia and had used cannabis in the previous 30 days.
Using specific methods to analyze respondent data, the researchers calculated that the sample of 419 regular cannabis users was sufficient to represent cannabis users with an accuracy of over 95%.
The people included in the sample of cannabis users had an average age of 33, worked mainly in the service sector, administration or commerce, and almost three quarters of them had followed a form higher education (after leaving secondary school at age 16).
Asked about their previous drug use, 60% of the sample said they had used MDMA, 57% cocaine, 51% LSD, mushrooms or other psychedelics, 40% amphetamine and 23 % of ketamine.
Commenting on the sample’s prior drug use, the study authors stated, “The study sample reported higher drug use than the general population…However, this higher use does not appear to be be associated with adverse health effects, as reflected in the indicators used. »
Comparison with the general population
Most of the indicators used by the researchers to assess the health of the respondents did not show any deterioration compared to the general population. These indicators include BMI, cholesterol, positive perception of health, and fruit and vegetable consumption.
88% of the sample had a positive perception of their health compared to the general population, 67% of cannabis users had a normal BMI compared to the general population, and 76% of the cannabis sample was doing ten minutes or more walking per day, compared to 70% of the population.
To assess mental health, the researchers asked several questions, including “How do you feel while using cannabis?” 94% of respondents said they were ‘happy’, 92% felt ‘full of ideas’ and 81% felt they ‘understand the world better’.
The researchers stated in their study that “most indicators did not show deterioration in the health of regular cannabis users compared to the general population. Users were observed to suffer more sleep problems and around 40% of the sample wanted to stop using cannabis, suggesting an addiction pattern. About 30% of the sample was able to stop taking prescription drugs thanks to cannabis. Social support and sleep problems, not cannabis use, were predictors of depression and well-being scores. »
The study authors recommend including more cannabis-related questions in future national population surveys, and warn of the risk of cannabis users developing addiction problems.
“Comparing our sample with data obtained from the general population using the ESCA, we found that cannabis users had better indicators regarding positive perception of health, BMI, cholesterol problems and blood pressure, the presence of chronic diseases, physical limitations in daily activities, mode of transportation (cycling being preferred by cannabis users) and depression,” the researchers said.
“While these differences cannot be attributed solely to cannabis use, they suggest that regular users of the drug do not experience relevant adverse effects in terms of fundamental indicators of overall health. We must remember that assessing the specific impact of cannabis use on health is difficult because health is a very complex construct affected by multiple variables. »
“Furthermore, potential dependence was also observed, suggesting that sustained cannabis use over years may be associated with a higher risk of developing such dependence. Another significant result is that the frequency of cannabis use is apparently unrelated to depression and well-being scores, whereas social support and sleep problems are strong predictors. »
“In conclusion, these results suggest that long-term cannabis use may not play a central role in terms of public health, while other health behaviors and complex variables are more related to health. We suggest including cannabis-related items in national health surveys, as they would provide valuable data to support the advancement of public debates regarding its regulation. »
The full study can be viewed here.