Arthur Cassa Macedo, André Oliveira Vilela de Faria, Isabella Bizzi, Fabrício A. Moreira, Alessandro Colasanti and Pietro Ghezzi
September 12, 2022
Background: There is a growing literature on the potential medical uses of Cannabis sativa and cannabinoid com- pounds. Although these have only been approved by regulatory agencies for a few indications, there is a hype about their possible benefits in a variety of conditions and a large market in the wellness industry. As in many cases patients search for information on cannabis products online, we have analyzed the information on medical cannabis avail- able on the Internet. Therefore, this study aims at assessing the quality of the information available online on medical cannabis.
Methods: We searched “medical cannabis” on June 2019 using google.com and downloaded the first 243 websites. After excluding dead links or websites with no information about cannabis, 176 websites were included. They were then classified for their typology (e.g., commercial, government, news outlets). As an indicator of trustworthiness, we used the Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA) score, which assesses the indication of date, author, owner- ship of the website, and the presence of references. We also considered if a website is certified by Health-On-the-Net (HON), an independent organization, by displaying a HONCode symbol. Subsequently, we performed a content analy- sis to assess both the medical cannabis indications mentioned by webpages and the completeness of the informa- tion provided (whether they mentioned potential side effects and legal/regulatory issues or not).
Results: Analyzing 176 webpages returned by a search engine, we found that 52% of them were news websites. Pain, epilepsy, and multiple sclerosis were the most frequently mentioned therapeutic areas (cited in 92, 84 and 80 webpages, respectively), which did not always match those for which there is regulatory approval. Information was also incomplete, with only 22% of the webpages mentioning potential side effects. Health portal websites provided the most complete information, with all of them (n = 7) reporting side effects. On average, 80% of webpages had a neutral stance on the potential benefits of medical cannabis, with commercial websites having more frequently a positive stance (67%).
Conclusions: We conclude that the information that can be found online is not always aligned in terms of the thera- peutic areas for which science-based evidence is often still weak.
Macedo, A. C., de Faria, A. O. V., Bizzi, I., Moreira, F. A., Colasanti, A., & Ghezzi, P. (2022). Online information on medical cannabis is not always aligned with scientific evidence and may raise unrealistic expectations. Journal of cannabis research, 4(1), 1-9.