Sociodemographic and drug use severity differences between medical marijuana users and non-medical users visiting the emergency department

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Background and Objectives:

The purpose of this study is to extend what is known about medical marijuana and non-medical marijuana users who visit the emergency department (ED) by exploring differences in their sociodemographic characteristics and their drug-related problem severity.


Of 292 consecutively enrolled exclusive marijuana-only users visiting the ED for any reason, 37% (n = 107) reported using marijuana on the advice of a medical doctor, and 63% (n = 185) reported that they did not use it under the advice of a medical doctor (ie, non-medical user). Participants denied using any other drug with the exception of alcohol. Participants completed the Addiction Severity Index-Lite which provided composite and individual items related to drug use problems, psychiatric problems, medical problems, and alcohol use problems. Self-efficacy for avoiding drug use and sociodemographic characteristics were also collected.


In a multivariate model, compared to non-medical marijuana users, medical users reported a higher frequency of days of use, more money spent on marijuana, and lower readiness to change use of marijuana, yet lower frequency of drug problems and tended to be low-risk versus moderate-severe risk users. Medical marijuana use was associated with a greater number of days of psychological problems.

Discussion and Conclusions:

Results for medical marijuana users might be interpreted as consistent with that of routine, self-administered treatment for medical or psychological problems.

Scientific Significance:

Results suggest behavioral health interventions in acute care settings should consider treating non-medical marijuana users differently than medical users due to the greater drug-related problems associated with non-medical use. (Am J Addict 2016;25:385–391)

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