Changing the Trajectory of the Medical Cannabis Revolution

Medical cannabis is gaining traction and acceptance. Studies show it can ease physical ailments like chronic pain and muscle spasms. It can also help relieve emotional and mental health problems like anxiety, depression, and sleep disorders.

The benefits of medical cannabis are being proven, with more studies emerging every day.

Plus, according to the National Library of Medicine, patients undergoing chemotherapy find relief and see remarkable results when using cannabis as an anticancer agent.

Despite this progress, many obstacles to medical cannabis access remain in the way. 

In addition to legal and legislative barriers, many physicians are not yet convinced that the health benefits of medical cannabis outweigh the risks.

According to one study, “Colorado Family Physicians’ Attitudes Toward Medical Marijuana,” nearly all physicians agreed on the need for further medical education about medical cannabis.

Patients will have to overcome these obstacles to gain full access to medical cannabis and the relief it can provide. That day will come, but progress is slow going. That’s why medical cannabis advocates are creating a movement to accelerate that progress. 

What is a medical cannabis advocate?

A medical cannabis advocate works to ensure safe and legal patient access to cannabis for therapeutic use and research. Advocates work to overcome various barriers to access by creating momentum in multiple ways:  

• Developing policies to open up access to medical cannabis for more patients and researchers

• Facilitating legislation, education, and research

• Breaking down political, social, and legal barriers 

• Firing up grassroots movements

• Partnering with medical cannabis providers and insurance agencies to
create innovative solutions

Drivers of the Medical Advocacy Movement

Every day, notable new developments pop up in the medical cannabis revolution. Patients are demanding alternatives to traditional pharmaceutical remedies. Federal approval is on the horizon.

Plus, insurers are seeing the benefits of medical cannabis — both in costs and outcomes. 

Medical cannabis advocates see the writing on the wall. They feel that patients today deserve the same options that patients a decade or two in the future will enjoy.

These advocates sense the gravity of the situation for so many patients today. And they realize there is no time to waste.

Patients Want Access

Anne Davis is a successful attorney, mother, and community leader in New Jersey.

She is also a national expert on medical cannabis and a sought-after presenter for healthcare law and advocacy initiatives.

She was diagnosed with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis (MS).

Shocked by the diagnosis, Davis conducted thorough due diligence about treatment options.

Many of the traditional medications offered to her would result in unfortunate side effects and harm vital organs.

As a result, frequent lab testing was recommended to monitor those organs. 

To avoid both scenarios, Davis decided to use her professional knowledge about medical cannabis.

The decision to ignore the traditional pharmaceutical treatments, however, was not supported by her physician. 

“I knew from my years in the industry cannabis was effective and had zero side effects.

I was well aware of the research that indicates cannabis has neuroprotective qualities, in addition to symptom relief. For that reason, I decided to use it every day as part of my treatment plan,” Davis said. 

Studies indicate that Davis’ story is more common than you might think.

A survey of MS patients conducted in 2019 showed that more than 40% of patients said they used medical cannabis in the past three months. Of course, MS patients are not alone.

According to Statista, 51% of cancer patients report that medical cannabis manages their symptoms very well.

Medical Cannabis Is Likely to Receive Federal Approval

Although the federal government continues to label cannabis an illegal substance and employers and insurance companies don’t cover cannabis like other medicines, all signs indicate change is coming. 

The SAFE Banking Act now allows banks and other financial institutions to provide support services to cannabis companies without the risk of violating the law. The Act will help cannabis companies more easily operate their businesses.

In September of 2021, the U.S. House Judiciary Committee voted to advance the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment, and Expungement (MORE) Act. This bill would federally legalize cannabis. The bill would also remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act.

According to the latest Gallup poll, 68% of Americans support marijuana legalization.

Medical cannabis advocates realize there are still hurdles to overcome and they are working to bridge the gap. Until cannabis becomes legal at the federal level, patients who can afford it are paying out-of-pocket to get their hands on medical cannabis.

That’s how badly they want to avoid traditional medicine and its side effects. For patients who can’t afford to pay out of pocket, insurance agencies may soon be coming to the rescue.

Insurance Coverage Is on the Horizon

Bennabis Health is the first health care plan in the nation that covers medical marijuana. The company has been marketing its proposal to workers’ compensation carriers.

Wondering why they think they have a chance? We’d all like to think that insurance companies put patients first. But demutualization has driven insurance companies to become laser-focused on the bottom line. 

However, the good news for medical cannabis is that it makes sense from a profitability perspective. A recent study from the National Bureau of Economic Research shows that cannabis enables employees to return to work sooner.

Claims data shows that employees who used cannabis for pain management filed 20% fewer medical claims.

Of course, the efficacy of medical cannabis is just as important. The results of various new studies are emerging and they continue to be quite encouraging.

Consider a new study reported in Frontiers in Psychiatry about medical marijuana and depression. The study found an increasing number of patients who failed to respond to traditional anti-depressants are now using medical cannabis to find relief.

Medical cannabis users experience less severe symptoms of depression than non-users. Further, medical cannabis users reported improved quality of life, better sleep, and less pain.  

Medical Cannabis Advocates: Moving Public Policy Forward

For decades, young people have been advocating for cannabis — both recreational and medical. Since the 1990s, groups like Students for Sensible Drug Policy have been developing strategies and solutions to overcome challenges facing the medical cannabis market. 

Other advocacy groups like the Americans for Safe Access, Veterans Cannabis Project, and The Cannabis Patient Advocacy Association are fighting for cannabis patients. 

These groups are creating forward momentum every day. They now have a seat at the table when it comes to decisions that will impact the future of the cannabis market. Their voices are growing louder and they are being heard. 

This article was first published in the winter 2021 issue of Cannabis & Tech Today. Read it here for free.

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