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May 22, 2024

Medical Cannabis and Treating Chronic Pain

With the majority of states allowing the medical use of cannabis, millions of people around the country now use it under the supervision of a medical professional. It seems highly unlikely that those states still holding out against medical cannabis will continue doing so much longer. That begs the question, what are so many patients using cannabis for?

According to study data, the most common reason for asking to be treated with medical cannabis is chronic pain. A study published in 2020 in the Journal of Cannabis Research suggests that nearly 39% of all cannabis patients suffer from unspecified chronic pain. An additional 13.5% use medical cannabis to treat anxiety while 8.4% use it to treat PTSD.

Pain Is a Subjective Symptom

It should be no surprise that chronic pain is the number one condition for which medical cannabis is utilized. Why? Because pain is a subjective symptom. There are plenty of known and unknown causes, but there is no way to measure the amount of pain a person feels in a scientific way. The best doctors can do is ask patients to rate their pain according to a predetermined scale.

The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke list literally dozens of causes of chronic pain on its website. The Institute’s definition of pain includes physical, neurogenic, and psychogenic pain. They list conditions ranging from fibromyalgia and inflammatory bowel disease to cancer pain and arthritis.

Pain is such a broad symptom covering so many illnesses, diseases, and injuries that is impossible to quantify the total number of people who experience pain at any given time. This leaves medical providers in a delicate position when consulting with patients requesting a recommendation for medical cannabis.

Keeping It Strictly Medical

Most of the states that have passed legislation to allow medical cannabis are committed to keeping the drug strictly within the medical sphere. Lawmakers and medical experts alike try to be as compassionate as they can be, understanding that living with chronic pain can be a nightmare. But again, pain is subjective.

In Utah, more than 16,000 of the 21,450 active medical cannabis patients use the drug to treat chronic pain. Medical providers in the state must follow strict guidelines when recommending the drug. Likewise, medical cannabis dispensaries have to toe the line.

Utahmarijuana.org is a state-licensed organization that operates medical clinics through which patients can get their medical cannabis cards. They say that Utah’s program is one of the strictest in the country. They also say that state legislators took the 2021 legislative session as an opportunity to double down on the medical nature of Utah’s program. Other states are now looking to Utah as an example of how to do things.

A New Way to Look at Pain

Data clearly shows that chronic pain is the number one reason for requesting medical cannabis. In our rush to address the opioid crisis, we have opened the door to medical cannabis as a replacement drug. That may or may not be a good thing. But with millions of patients now on the rolls, perhaps it is time to step back and rethink how we view pain.

Does medical cannabis give us an excuse to stop trying to understand pain and how we can prevent it by leading healthier lives? Does it give us reason to medicate for even the smallest amount of pain that amounts to little more than discomfort? Living with chronic pain can be a nightmare. But so to can unnecessarily medicating. We need to stop and think about this before we go much further.

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