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HIGHLIGHTS
  1. Vaping surpassed smoking as most popular way to ingest medical cannabis in North America in 2018
  2. Muscle and joint pain were the top reasons in 2018 for medical cannabis use in North America
  3. Older patients report lower efficacy from medical pot versus younger generations

Vaping surpassed smoking as the most popular way to consume medical cannabis in North America in 2018, while the stigma around pot means many women prefer cannabidiol (CBD) capsules, an extensive report conducted by Strainprint Technologies Ltd. showed.

Toronto-based Strainprint has been collecting cannabis data and analytics since 2016 through patient input.

The amount of patient reports showing vaping as the preferred method of dried flower consumption rose above 40 per cent by the end of 2018 versus 35 per cent earlier in the year. This compares with the drop in smoking to around 30 per cent by end-2018 versus 43 per cent in January of last year.

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This data showing increased preference to vape medical cannabis in 2018 comes amid an outbreak of vaping-related illnesses, largely in the United States from concentrated products.

“Relative to the overall Canadian trends for method of ingestion for legal products, Manitoba, Alberta, and New Brunswick consume more cannabis via smoking than average, while Ontario and Nova Scotia vape more than average,” the report said.

“Oils are most popular in British Columbia.”

Ontario is Canada’s biggest consumer market.

The data, which was compiled from more than 800,000 patient-reported “outcome measures” throughout North America, was collected over the entirety of 2018.

Through Strainprint, patients track their medical cannabis use and perceived efficacy for their specific ailments.

“Today, more than half way through 2019, it can be estimated that there are 400,000 medical patient registrations in Canada suggesting that cannabis for medical purposes may be more accepted by medical professionals and patients than was expected,” Strainprint said.

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“This growth indicates that legalization of [recreational] cannabis in Canada has not negatively affected the number of medical cannabis patients. Patients are using cannabis to relieve symptoms, and this behaviour has become augmented with the legalization of recreational cannabis.”

Recreational cannabis was legalized in October 2018.

Top reason for medical pot use in 2018: muscle and joint pain

Data show the top symptoms patients use medical marijuana are muscle and joint pain, with average efficacy reported at nearly 40 per cent. Next came anxiety, at 46 per cent perceived efficacy, and then insomnia, depression, inflammation and joint stiffness. The highest average efficacy of 52 per cent was reported by patients consuming cannabis for irritability, though just 4 per cent of reported use was for this symptom. The lowest efficacy of 35 per cent was reported for those treating nerve pain.

While the 55-plus age group largely used cannabis to treat conditions such as joint pain and stiffness, as well as nerve pain, 11 per cent of the reports by patients aged 18-34 used it to treat anxiety.

“On average, how well cannabis is reported to alleviate a particular symptom, or the reported efficacy of the cannabis, is not related to the frequency with which it is consumed for that symptom,” Strainprint said.

“Reported efficacy of cannabis differs by age, even for those treating the same symptom. The trends seen in Strainprint data is that older adults tend to report lower efficacy.”

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Patients between 25 and 34 years of age, for example, often reported higher efficacy from medical pot use, while those aged 18 to 24 reported relatively high effectiveness for joint and muscle pain.

For patients aged 35-44, their main symptom being treated by cannabis was muscle pain at 12 per cent, while the top reason for those aged 45-54 was joint pain at 13 per cent.

Older women prefer cannabis oil versus flower

The data clearly show different preferences by gender, with women in older age brackets often opting to take cannabis oil rather than the dried flower that is preferred by younger generations.

“Online cannabis forums such as SheCann and the Strainprint Community have observed that women tend to start with CBD only, which is typically available in oil,” Strainprint said.

“Women seem more concerned with the stigma that exists consuming cannabis. By using CBD oils they may not perceive themselves to be ‘using cannabis’ since there is little or no psychoactive effect without THC27.”

Women aged 55 and older ingest three times more medical cannabis via oil, versus those aged 18 to 24 years old, which prefer smoking. By the time they are 25 years old, vaping becomes more common, the data show.

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“Using cannabis oil is not as common for males as it is for females. Males smoke dried flower more often than women, however with age they switch from smoking to vaping,” the report said.

“Oil use increases for men at age 45-54 years however it does not increase again when they hit 55-plus years.”

The importance of terpenes

Patient reports showed that medical cannabis containing the terpene limonene – known to have uplifting effects – were among the most effective for treating depression. Those treating insomnia noted sedating effects from concentrations of myrcene and nerolidol terpenes.

“It is observed that terpene profile can greatly impact the side effects felt,” Strainprint said.

While many cannabis users focus on certain cannabinoid levels such as THC and CBD, industry experts often state that education on the importance of specific terpenes is needed.

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