Impact on Healthcare
As cannabis becomes more mainstream, analysts and scholars ponder what the impact might be to certain demographics and areas of society. Currently, over 2.1 million Americans have a medical cannabis prescription, and that number is growing rapidly. Recently, two researchers, one at the University of Michigan and another at the University of Buffalo, wondered what the impact would be on the healthcare system.
To find out, the researchers gave a survey to 450 US adults who attended an annual cannabis advocacy event at the University of Michigan. Shockingly, 78% of respondents said they’d used cannabis to help treat a medical condition. Most took it to treat conditions like chronic pain, back pain, headaches, and depression. As a result, 42% stopped taking a prescription drug, opting for cannabis instead. 38% said they cut back on a prescription drug, after receiving their medical card.
30% of respondents said they never informed their physician, even though what they were doing is legal on the state level. Surprisingly, respondents rated cannabis better at controlling their condition than the drug they’d been prescribed, in terms of effectiveness, side effects, availability, and cost. Experts say cannabis may have a lower toxicity level than many prescription drugs, too.
Should the Healthcare System Embrace Cannabis?
Daniel Kruger, one of the researchers on this study and a member of the U-M Institute for Social Research, said in a statement, “Given the growing use of cannabis for medical purposes and the widespread use for recreation purposes despite criminalization, the current public health framework focusing primarily on cannabis abstinence appears obsolete.” Several studies point to some benefits in treating certain conditions. CBD, for instance, seems very effective in treating epilepsy. In fact, it might be the only thing that can treat rare childhood epileptic conditions, such as Dravet’s syndrome.
Several studies show the benefits of medical cannabis in dealing with nausea–particularly the kind associated with chemotherapy. Other research suggests it could be useful in pain management, to treat glaucoma, PTSD, and to help with spasticity found in Parkinson’s and stiffness associated with M.S. There is some evidence that certain cannabinoids have anti-inflammatory properties. Still, it isn’t overwhelming. In fact, a lot more research should be done to clarify how effective and safe cannabis is as a medicine.
The problem remains federal illegality. Since cannabis is at a schedule I classification under the Controlled Substances Act, it’s very difficult to study. Even though some liberalizations have occurred in recent years, researchers complain that the enormous red tape they encounter makes studying the plant extremely challenging.
One limitation of the study is survey participants were approached at an advocacy event. These folks were already predisposed to the substance. Many too admitted to using cannabis recreationally in the past. Would the same results be found among those who were prescribed cannabis and yet, had no previous experience with it?
An advantage pain management experts and patients point out, is that medical cannabis could offset the possibility of painkiller addiction. This is particularly prescient considering the opioid epidemic gripping the nation. There are few tools in the toolbox of pain management specialists. Opioid drugs are among the most commonly used and prescribed. The problem is, sooner or later the body builds up a tolerance, leaving the patient with bleed through pain.
At this point, the dosage is often increased–either by a physician or the patient themselves. But this dosage will only be effective for so long, leading to a creep toward addiction or overdose. It’s thought that medical cannabis might undo this phenomenon, by helping to control bleed through pain, making a dosage increase unnecessary. In fact, 26% of survey participants said they used medical cannabis to wean themselves off OxyContin–a common but potentially dangerous opioid painkiller. Another study showed that prescription opioid use decreased in states where medical cannabis was legalized.
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To learn about the results of a similar study, click here: