Patient-Reported Symptom Relief Following Medical Cannabis Consumption Interview with:

Jacob M. Vigil, PhD
Department of Psychology
University of New Mexico What is the background for this study?


Response: For the past several years we have been using observational research designs as a means to overcome some of the logistical and legal barriers for conducting patient outcomes medical cannabis research. In partnership with the software developers of the Releaf App which currently is the largest repository of user-entered information on the consumption and effects of cannabis use in the United States, we have been able to measure how patients choose to consume cannabis and the effects of those choices in real-time.  Since its release in 2016, the commercially developed Releaf App has been the only publicly available, incentive-free patient educational software program designed for recording how individual cannabis usage sessions correspond to immediate changes in symptom intensity levels and experienced side effects. What are the main findings? 

Response: In one study, across 27 different health conditions with symptoms that ranged from seizure disorders to depression, users reported an average symptom reduction of nearly 4 points on a 1-10 scale following the consumption of cannabis in its various product forms, from concentrates to topicals. In addition to therapeutic benefits, these studies also showed that cannabis use is associated with frequent and numerous, yet generally non-serious side effects. Positive and context-specific side effects were far more commonly reported than negative side effects by the Releaf App users, with the most frequent reported side effects being positive (relaxed, peaceful, comfy) and the least frequent side effects being negative (paranoid, confused, headache).

In another study focused specifically on the use of raw natural cannabis flower, or ‘buds’ for treating insomnia, we observed similar degrees of effectiveness which varied according to characteristics of the flower and combustion methods. What should readers take away from your report?

Response: One of the most striking patterns in the recent results was the breadth of symptoms that appeared to improve following cannabis consumption. Over 94 percent of cannabis users reported symptom intensity reductions following self-administered cannabis use across the various health conditions measured with the Releaf App. This may reflect the ability of the plant’s phytocannabinoids to influence the human endocannabinoid system, which regulates both mental and physical health and behavioral systems.

Therefore, and unlike conventional pharmaceutical approaches, which largely target for example, specific neurotransmitter sites, cannabis may act to improve a broad spectrum of symptoms by regulating homeostatic functioning, perhaps best described as a system-modulating rather than symptom-modulating form of therapy. The medicinal potential of this concept and practical application for treating so many and seemingly diverse health conditions is unlike any other single medication currently known to exist.

Ultimately, cannabis could find a permanent place among our modern repertoire of medication options if it can treat users’ health conditions more effectively and more safely than conventional pharmaceutical remedies. As in the case of insomnia, prescription sleep aids such as antidepressants (e.g., trazodone, amitriptyline, and doxepin), benzodiazepines (e.g., diazepam and lorazepam), gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) medications (zolpidem and eszopiclone), and anti-psychotics (aripiprazole, olanzapine, quetiapine and risperidone) are associated with significant clinical drawbacks and heightened risk of morbidity. The widespread apparent use of cannabis as a sleep aid and for treating myriad other health symptoms underscores the importance of further medical research regarding its risk-benefit profile and the effectiveness of cannabis as a substitute for other substances, including alcohol, over-the-counter and prescription sleep aids, and scheduled medications (e.g., opioids and sedatives). What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this work?

Response: Our future work will focus in part on identifying individuals’ differences in consumption patterns, contextual factors that influence patient medication choices, and the unique and synergistic roles of fundamental characteristics of the cannabis products on user experiences, including  routes of administration, quantity and method of ingestion, and cannabinoid and terpenoid contents, all of which are likely crucial for understanding how cannabis affects symptom relief and side effect manifestation. Is there anything else you would like to add?

Response: Both studies were supported in part by the University of New Mexico Medical Cannabis Research Fund (, which was designed for conducting the types of cannabis-based biomedical research studies that have been rarely historically funded through governmental entities, such as the National Institutes of Health. 

Citation: Front. Pharmacol., 28 August 2018 |

Patient-Reported Symptom Relief Following Medical Cannabis Consumption

Sarah S. Stith1, Jacob M. Vigil2*,Franco Brockelman3, Keenan Keeling3 and Branden Hall3

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Last Updated on September 13, 2018 by Marie Benz MD FAAD