The most common reason why people across the United States enroll in state-approved medical marijuana programs is chronic pain, new research has found.
In a new paper, a team of researchers from the University of Michigan probed the use of cannabis as a viable treatment for a host of health issues in states where it has been approved. The goal is to understand whether people are using cannabis, which is a Schedule 1 drug, according to the Controlled Substances Act, for evidence-based reasons.
The paper appears in the current issue of the healthcare journal Health Affairs.
Medical Marijuana Use In The US
The researchers analyzed available data from 15 states that reported the reason behind medical marijuana use. They found that chronic pain, which is characterized by pain that lasts for more than several months, as the most common reason why people use medical marijuana. Patients also reported to using medical marijuana to ease stiffness due to multiple sclerosis and nausea caused by chemotherapy.
"This finding is consistent with the prevalence of chronic pain, which affects an estimated 100 million Americans," stated the study authors.
The researchers also compared their findings to the symptoms and conditions that have been scientifically proven to be alleviated by marijuana use based on the 2017 report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. They found that about 85 percent of the patients have reasons supported by substantial or conclusive evidence.
Removing Stigma Associated With Medical Marijuana
The researchers said that their findings are at odds with the current status of marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug, which means that it has a high potential for abuse and has no accepted medical use. Heroin, LSD, and ecstasy are also in the same scheduling despite the fact that marijuana has been legalized in 10 states and has been approved for medical use in 33 states.
"Since the majority of states in the U.S. have legalized medical cannabis, we should consider how best to adequately regulate cannabis and safely incorporate cannabis into medical practice," explained Kevin Boehnke, lead author of the study.
In a letter published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, the researchers said that there is currently minimal guidelines for physicians and patients about the use of cannabis for medical purposes. While cannabidiol (CBD oil), which is non-intoxicating and according to evidence, offers pain relief, is not yet ready to officially be the first-line treatment for chronic pain, they hope that physicians "do our part by listening, showing compassion, and using the best available knowledge to support patients and keep them safe on their journey."