Enthusiasm for medical cannabis is rapidly outstripping the evidence to support its use. Randomized controlled trials are needed to provide guidance to patients, clinicians, and policy makers. However, in the meantime, these results offer useful preliminary guidance for the use for medical cannabis, and can suggest directions for future research. There are four results in particular that may be clinically useful and which should prompt future research.
First, these results underscore the importance of the THC:CBD ratio as an important attribute that patients and clinicians should consider in treatment decisions. This is particularly true for neuropathic pain, insomnia, and depressive symptoms, for which this ratio seems to explain considerable variance in perceived effectiveness. For neuropathic pain in particular, an increase in THC:CBD ratio over the full range (0–100%) more than doubled perceptions of effectiveness.
Second, some symptoms may not be as responsive to increases in the THC:CBD ratio. For PTSD-related flashbacks and anorexia, although adjusted proportions showed a trend toward an increase, this trend was not significant. Indeed, the evidence to support the use of cannabis for PTSD-related symptoms is still very sparse, although several clinical trials are underway.
And for anxiety symptoms, increases above a ratio of 1:1 were associated with reduced effectiveness. This inverted U-shaped curve seen for anxiety symptoms is not surprising. One well-recognized side effect of THC is anxiety symptoms, sometimes accompanied by paranoia. So it is reasonable that even if THC offers some symptom relief, higher ratios may have the opposite effect.
Two other results are more surprising and warrant further exploration. First, the finding that increasing THC:CBD ratios are associated with greater effectiveness for neuropathic pain is unexpected. There is increasing evidence that CBD offers benefits in the treatment of neuropathic pain, and some suggestion that CBD-only formulations may be effective. And yet these results indicate a strong effect of increasing THC:CBD ratio, in a linear manner. It is also noteworthy that the overall improvement rate noted here for neuropathic pain (47%) is higher than that reported in a recent meta-analysis (20%). Further research is needed to explore the observed differences between these findings in a real-world population and the previous literature.
Second, these results did not indicate that a higher THC:CBD ratio is associated with greater effectiveness in the treatment of anorexia. This is also unexpected, because much of the evidence for the use of cannabis for this symptom comes from studies of either THC-dominant cannabis strains or synthetic THC (dronabinol). Those studies are generally consistent in demonstrating modest effectiveness. Therefore, the results reported here suggest that CBD may also have a role to play in the treatment of anorexia.