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Study Shows Medical Cannabis Enrollment Has Quadrupled |

It is becoming increasingly popular to legalize recreational marijuana and for medical purposes. A recent study however revealed that the number of people enrolled in programs that are medically-only have increased by fourfold between 2016 and 2020.

A study of U.S. trends in medical cannabis also considered qualifying conditions that patients listed. The results showed an increase in enrollment for states only offering medical cannabis. States which offer recreational cannabis have either declined in number or maintained their status. The most commonly reported condition on applications was chronic pain. 

This research project, titled “U.S. Trends in Registration for Medical Cannabis and Reasons for Use From 2016 to 2020” and published with Annals of Internal Medicine Kevin Boehnke was the principal author. He is a University of Michigan expert on chronic pain. He wanted to focus on medical enrollment and not overall cannabis usage to establish cannabis trends. 

During his work on the study, he asked himself, “How many people are using cannabis for pain? Why is cannabis being used by people? [medical cannabis]?”

Boehnke started a long-term investigation into the enrollment and use of cannabis. This was done using data that Boehnke had obtained from various reports, websites of state governments, meetings notes, documents and other information that he could access through Freedom of Information Act. Boehnke was particularly interested in how the patterns changed under changing recreational and medical laws. 

He also published another study on the issue in 2019, “Qualifying Conditions Of Medical Cannabis License Holders In The United States,” in HealthAffairs, However, this study is more comprehensive and has access to even more data. 

“These changing state policies have dramatic effects on how many people might be using cannabis for medical purposes or how they might be able to do so,” Boehnke says regarding the study, according to STAT News

STAT News Byron Adinoff (a doctor who studies drug addiction) was also interviewed about the findings. Adinoff is president of Doctors for Cannabis Regulation. He expressed satisfaction with the study’s results and hopes for more research that demonstrates how crucial medical cannabis treatment is. Although he admitted that for many years he was skeptical about the possibility of prescribing cannabis to patients, his opinion has changed over time as more information becomes available. 

“I didn’t really buy into it, but, you know, after you talk to several hundred people who have benefited from it, you start to think maybe there’s something to it,” he says. “Hopefully it will get organized medicine and physicians individually to pay increasing attention to this issue,” he added.

The Oklahoma patient enrollment increase was another important piece of data. There was more to the story than just a jump in patient enrollments. One in ten residents is now medical cannabis users, according to the report. This record-breaking number was revealed by the study. The state doesn’t require that patients have specific medical conditions in order to be eligible for a medical card. A doctor can approve medical marijuana for anyone with a reasonable condition.

The U.S. has a comprehensive list of conditions which qualify patients for medical cannabis. Chronic pain is allowed in most states, so it’s no surprise that it’s at the top of the list for what patients are medicating for. 

STAT News I also talked to Silvia Martins at Columbia University, an epidemiologist who is specialized in substance use. She hopes that this study will help to increase the confidence in treating chronic pain with cannabis. 

“Even for chronic pain, we need more evidence, but for other types of conditions, we need even more evidence,” she says regarding the information in the study.