Conference Coverage

Patients with MS who consider using marijuana are more likely to engage in risky behaviors



Patients with multiple sclerosis (MS) who use or are considering using marijuana are more likely than other MS patients to smoke tobacco and drink alcohol, based on survey results presented at the annual meeting of the Consortium of Multiple Sclerosis Centers (CMSC).

“Discussing marijuana use with patients should include discussion of better health behaviors overall,” said Stacey S. Cofield, PhD, associate professor of biostatistics at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

In August 2014, Dr. Cofield and colleagues invited 12,260 active participants in the North American Research Committee on Multiple Sclerosis (NARCOMS) registry to complete an online, anonymous questionnaire about current behaviors and attitudes regarding marijuana use and legality. Marijuana use was defined as smoking or ingesting marijuana, as well as using controlled substances derived from marijuana or synthetic marijuana. The questionnaire also asked participants about other potentially risky health behaviors, including alcohol consumption, smoking, and seat belt use.

About 78% of the 5,481 survey respondents were women. The median age at response time was 57 years, and median age at diagnosis was 37 years. In addition, 26.5% reported having active relapsing disease, 42.9% reported stable relapsing disease (that is, no relapse in at least 2 years), 20.9% reported progressive disease that formerly had been relapsing, and 9.8% reported progressive disease without relapses.

Most respondents (91.5%) thought that marijuana should be legal, 58.1% thought that it should require a prescription, and 52.9% considered using it for MS. Although 25.4% of respondents have used marijuana for their MS, 20.0% had discussed it with their doctor, and 16.1% were currently using some form of marijuana.

Nearly half of respondents, 48%, reported never using tobacco, 39.4% were former smokers, and 12.5% were current smokers. About 25% reported never consuming alcohol, with 32% consuming it monthly or less, 19% consuming it two to four times per month, and 24% consuming alcohol at least weekly. Approximately 93% of participants reported always wearing a seat belt, 4.7% nearly always used it, and more than 1% used it sometimes, seldom, or never, respectively.

When Dr. Cofield and colleagues adjusted the data for age and gender, they found that current marijuana users and those who said they had considered marijuana use were significantly more likely to be current tobacco users and to consume alcohol; they were nominally less likely to wear seat belts.

NARCOMS is funded in part by the CMSC and the Foundation of the CMSC. The present study had no funding support. Dr. Cofield reported receiving a consulting fee from the U.S. Department of Defense.

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