American medical marijuana patients are mostly using cannabis to treat pain, according to registered patient data compiled by a cannabis-focused news site. Research suggests that having legal access to cannabis for pain could help address the nation’s opioid epidemic.
Chronic and severe pain accounts for an estimated 64.2 percent of the qualifying conditions of registered medical marijuana patients, according to data compiled by Marijuana Business Daily. Muscle spasms are the second most common qualifying condition at 13 percent, followed by severe nausea at 6.3 percent, cancer at 5.8 percent, and post-traumatic stress disorder at 4.2 percent.
The calculations are based on publicly released data from the state medical cannabis programs in Arizona, Colorado, Minnesota, Montana, New Jersey, Nevada, and Oregon, the only states with medical marijuana laws that publish patient counts by condition.
Whether chronic or severe pain is included as a qualifying condition has shown to play a significant role in the health of a state’s medical marijuana market. The state of Illinois, for example, doesn’t include pain on its list of approved medical marijuana conditions, and its market has subsequently struggled with dispensaries being forced to close. Minnesota, while initially having among the smallest medical marijuana programs, is expected to see its market grow significantly after just recently approving chronic and severe pain.
The Minnesota Legislature and the state’s health commissioner decided to add pain as an approved condition in an effort to address the country’s opiate painkiller epidemic.
“We have an obligation to do all that we can to help those suffering from severe and persistent pain, and to help them avoid subsequent problems such as opioid addiction,” Minnesota Health Commissioner Dr. Ed Ehlinger said when the state’s decision to add pain as an approved condition was announced last December.
Opioids are commonly prescribed for treating chronic or severe pain, but the substances carry a high risk for abuse, addiction, and overdose. Two years ago, over 1.9 million Americans had a substance abuse disorder involving prescription painkillers, and nearly 19,000 Americans lost their life due to painkiller overdose. Because of safety concerns, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced earlier this year that opioid pain medicines would be required to carry black-box health warnings explaining the drug’s risks to both doctors and patients.
Research suggests that allowing cannabis for the treatment of chronic or severe pain could help curtail the nation’s problem with opioids. Having legal access to medical marijuana has shown to significantly reduce prescription drug use. A recent study found that doctors prescribed an average of 1,826 fewer doses of painkillers in the year following the passing of medicinal cannabis legislation.
Cannabis has long demonstrated its efficacy for reducing neuropathic and nociceptive pain, even proving effective for managing pain that had otherwise proven refractory to other traditional treatments. A study published last year evaluated the safety of regular cannabis use by chronic pain patients and concluded that there was no increase in risk of serious adverse effects.
Nearly all the states that have passed medical marijuana laws have included pain among the list of approved conditions for medical marijuana. Of the 25 states with medicinal cannabis programs, just Illinois, New Jersey, and New York don’t allow medical marijuana for patients suffering from pain.