The quality of information on the web about medical marijuana for inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) was only “average,” a researcher reported here.
On the validated DISCERN questionnaire used to assess quality of information, the average score was 42.6, which was classified as average, according to Marie Borum, MD, and colleagues from George Washington University in Washington.
IBD is one of the conditions for which medical marijuana has been approved as a treatment. “Based on observational and animal studies, it is thought that modulation of endocannabinoid receptors may improve inflammation and therefore the symptoms of IBD,” Borum’s group explained in a poster at the Advances in Inflammatory Bowel Diseases annual meeting.
Patients increasingly use the internet to find information about alternative treatments, and no studies have evaluated online resources about medical marijuana for IBD. This study aimed to evaluate claims, warnings, and evidence on the available internet resources for IBD.
On the DISCERN quality questionnaire, scores of 66 to 75 were considered excellent, 56 to 65 were very good, 46 to 55 were good, 36 to 45 were average, and <35 were poor.
A total of 89 web sites were included, of which 75 (84%) were intended for use by consumers and 14 (16%) were aimed at medical professionals.
The average Flesch-Kincaid grade of readability was 13.3, with no significant difference between sites intended for consumers (13.2) and for medical professionals (14, P=0.41). This test estimates the grade level for readability, and reflects the average sentence length and the average number of syllables per word. For example, a Flesch-Kincaid grade of 10.6 represents an 11th grade reading level, while a grade of 14 represents the second year of college.
On the discernment quality score, there was no difference between the consumer and medical professional web sites (40 vs 48, P=0.08).
Consumer web sites did, however, offer significantly more claims of improvement in disease pathology than did sites for professionals (45% vs 15%, P=0.04) and significantly less often provided evidence-based references (40% vs 85%, P=0.04).
Only 21.3% of the sites included precautionary information regarding marijuana use in IBD, with no significant difference seen between sites aimed at consumers and those intended for medical professionals.
The study demonstrated that a multitude of online resources exist with information of medical marijuana as an alternative treatment for IBD patients.
The majority of sites were intended for consumers, but their readability grade level exceeded the NIH recommendation of a sixth grade reading level for medical information, the researchers pointed out.
There also was variability in the available evidence-based references, and inconsistency in the inclusion of precautionary information and therapeutic claims.
“It is critical that readily available online information about cannabis treatment in IBD be readable, evidence-based, and comprehensive in order to allow patients to make informed medical decisions,” they concluded.