Most of the 130,000 people in the Netherlands who use cannabis as a medicine to help with depression or pain, for example, buy the plant from a coffee shop or grow it themselves, according to research by the mental health and addiction research institute Trimbos.
If fact, only around 7,000 people actually have a formal doctors’ prescription for medical marijuana, even though the Netherlands has had a government run Bureau of Medicinal Cannabis since 2003, which issues cannabis of pharmaceutical quality to patients.
Now the Trimbos institute is launching a major research programme to try to establish why users don’t go through the official channels, and to get a better picture of what ailments they use cannabis for.
‘We are very interested in finding out who these people are, what kind of illnesses or symptoms they have, where they are getting the cannabis and how satisfied they are,’ researcher Pieter Oomen told Dutch News. ‘And of course, the really big question is why are all these people not using cannabis with a prescription.’
The research project does not cover people who only use over the counter CBD oils. ‘There is a lot less evidence for their efficacy in the scientific literature as there is for THC dominant cannabis strains,’ Oomen said. ‘There are studies which indicate cannabis is useful in treating chronic pain or nausea during cancer treatment, for instance. But we know from anecdotal evidence that people are using it for a much wider range of problems.’
The Medusa research project will take around a year to complete.
People who use marijuana as a medicine are first being invited to take part in an online survey and then to sign up for one of several more in-depth studies.
Similar research projects have been carried out in Belgium, the US, Canada and Denmark and it will be interesting to compare results, Oomen said. ‘But of course, all these countries have widely different populations and policy frameworks,’ he said. ‘And none of them have had a medical marijuana bureau for the past 20 years.’