By Sherri Hickey, Assistant Vice President of Medical Management, Safety National
Medical marijuana has already been legalized in 29 states and D.C., with 12 states pending legislation. It is time for the workers’ compensation industry to embrace this new reality and learn how to incorporate the use of medicinal marijuana into claims handling where appropriate. It might surprise many to hear that there are actually advantages and improved outcomes related to its use.
Understanding Recreational Versus Medical Marijuana
There are many misconceptions regarding differences between recreational and medical marijuana. A cannabis plant is made up of over 80 cannabinoids. With recreational marijuana, the primary cannabinoid is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). It is traditionally smoked and the THC is what provides the high or the impairment. Recreational marijuana is metabolized through the liver. Drug tests are designed to detect THC, which can stay in the system for weeks or months.
In the case of medical marijuana, the primary cannabinoid is cannabidiol (CBD). It is not smoked, but rather is delivered in forms like oil and liquid. In addition, medical marijuana contains 0% THC, so use provides no high or psychotropic effect. It is metabolized through the blood stream, therefore it will exit the body within 24 hours. Because of these elements, standard drug tests looking for THC will not detect its use.
Medical marijuana can be used for many symptoms, however, in the workers’ compensation arena it will primarily be used to manage pain, anxiety, muscle spasms, post-traumatic stress disorder and to control seizures. It can be vaporized, added to food or liquid, developed into a topical that is rubbed into skin or a transdermal that can be applied as a patch. Unlike recreational marijuana, medical marijuana can be delivered in managed doses. It is currently regulated individually by state and each state is actively managing quality and consistency in items produced.
It is important to mention that THC-based marijuana can have some medicinal capabilities and individuals could benefit from using both forms. However, for treatment of injured workers that are likely to re-enter the workforce, it is not recommended for use – especially when there are so many benefits associated with the THC-free version.
Where to Begin
Let’s face it, this country is in the midst of an opioid crisis due to opioid overprescribing in general.