A new study looking into the reasons individuals use cannabis medically has confirmed what many people in the industry have long suspected: chronic pain is the number one qualifying condition patients list on their medical cannabis applications. But how does the data compare to other data on chronic pain?
Chronic pain can be tough to define because different entities assign different time periods. For example, the Cleveland Clinic says that chronic pain is ongoing pain that lasts for three to six months. The Institute for Chronic Pain says that six months is the threshold.
Even states have different standards. In Utah, for example, the law was recently changed to allow treating with cannabis when pain is expected to last at least two weeks. Utahmarijuana.org says the change was made to accommodate acute pain patients who would rather not use opioid painkillers. But the net effect is that chronic pain can now be diagnosed after just two weeks.
Millions of Patients
Getting back to the study, researchers from the University of Michigan were curious to learn the reasons people enrolled in medical cannabis programs. Among their findings is the fact that some three million American adults are now using medical cannabis legally in the thirty-eight states that allow it. Researchers also found that chronic pain is the most often listed condition on patient applications.
They also discovered that there is a much higher concentration of medical users in states with medical-only programs. In states that allow recreational use, medical cannabis enrollment has either stayed the same or fallen in recent years. That particular statistic answers a question some of us have been asking about recreational use.
In states where recreational use is fully legal, is it worth the hassle to enroll in a medical cannabis program? Is it worth the trouble of visiting with a doctor, applying for medical cannabis card, and then visiting a pharmacy to get your product? Apparently not.
The researchers noted that pain is a qualifying condition in all the states with medical cannabis programs. Some states have up to thirty qualifying conditions while others list just a few. Chronic pain, cancer, and PTSD seem to be common among most of them.
Chronic Pain in General
So how big a problem is chronic pain in America? The CDC estimates that just over 20% of adults have experienced chronic pain. Roughly 7% experience chronic pain severe enough to limit daily life and/or work. With a population of more than 332 million, the total number of chronic pain patients in the U.S. dwarfs the three million who use medical cannabis.
Still, it is telling that chronic pain is the leading cause of medical cannabis enrollment. The thing about pain is that it is subjective. What would be extremely painful to one person might barely register on another’s pain scale. What could be minor to one patient can be perceived as debilitating to another.
Better Than the Alternative
As cannabis proponents see things, treating chronic pain with medical cannabis is better than the alternative: opioid pain medications. We all know how destructive the opioid crisis has been both at home and abroad. It doesn’t make sense to continue doing the same things we have been doing all along. So why not introduce cannabis into the mix?
Millions of medical cannabis users have done just that. They have decided to dispense with other treatments and use cannabis instead. If it works for them, good. They should have access to a medicine that makes them feel better and that they can feel good about.