Canadian study finds poor information online about cannabis and pain treatment

Study cites importance of healthcare providers in guiding patients seeking information on the web regarding cannabis and pain.

Researchers with McMaster University reviewed websites that feature the use of cannabis in the treatment and management of pain. iQoncept/Getty Images

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Are you looking for information on the web about cannabis to treat and manage pain?

Go ahead, but you may want to consult your doctor or a healthcare provider as well.

A Canadian study has determined that the quality of cannabis-related information online is not so good.

Researchers with McMaster University found in a review of 36 websites that there is much to be desired about what can be found with Internet searches.

“Our findings indicate that the consumer health information available at the intersection of cannabis and pain is commonly incomplete and biased,” the investigators wrote.

The report is titled “Cannabis for pain: a cross-sectional survey of the patient information quality on the Internet”.

Jeremy Ng, Darragh Dzisiak, and Jessica Saini prepared the paper, which was published online on August 16, 2021 by the Journal of Cannabis Research.

The authors noted that three countries were searched on Google: Canada, the Netherlands, and the U.S.

“While health portal and non-profit websites generally provide higher-quality information, commercial, professional, and cannabis-focussed news websites tended to only present the positive aspects of cannabis while downplaying the potential risks of use,” the study stated.

Moreover, “results also corroborates findings from a number of published studies which have reported that consumers may be at risk of making poor health-related decisions following information-seeking online, both in general and in the context of cannabis use”.

“Healthcare providers need to be aware of the information their patients seek pertaining to cannabis online and should be prepared to guide them in identifying high-quality resources which promote the safe and effective use of this therapy,” the authors wrote.

The researchers focused on eligible websites containing cannabis consumer health information for pain treatment.

Also, only English-language websites were included in the study.

“Encyclopedias (i.e. Wikipedia), forums, academic journals, general news websites, major e-commerce websites, websites not publicly available, books, and video platforms were excluded,” the authors explained.

They noted that many people experiencing pain may look at cannabis as a possible option for treatment.

“While the long-term impacts of prolonged cannabis use remain understudied, there is preliminary evidence suggesting that negative health effects are concomitant with long-term usage, such as tuberculosis (with smoking cannabis), addiction (seen in 17% of heavy users who start using cannabis in adolescence), altered brain development, increased risk of schizophrenia, lowered IQ, and cyclic vomiting,” the authors pointed out.

They noted that patients may “not be able to identify trustworthy and accurate sources”.

“Therefore, it is important that healthcare providers are aware of the quality of such information commonly accessed by patients, in order that they are prepared to guide them in identifying trustworthy sources,” the authors suggested.

In notes sent to CannCentral, author Jeremy Ng pointed out that health portals “tended to score higher in regards to quality of information”.

However, “professional and commercial websites scored the lowest”.

“A common phenomenon we found across the latter (not singling any out in particular) and unsurprising as many are for-profit businesses is the fact that they provided a one-sided perspective of cannabis,” the academic health researcher explained.

This means that oftentimes, potential benefits were provided in much greater detail on these websites in comparison to possible harms.

“In my view, the most obvious and direct harms that may result from this would be consumers making ill-informed decisions based on this information, which may potentially jeopardize their health and safety,” Ng told CannCentral.

Follow Carlito Pablo on Twitter at @carlitopablo

Tags cannabis pain

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