A new analysis of a massive dataset of medical marijuana patient records from across the U.S. suggests that states with restrictive eligibility criteria are likely “deterring patients from seeking the medication they need” and compromising access to information on why people use cannabis.
Nugg MD, a cannabis technology company that links people to doctors via telemedicine for medical cannabis recommendations, shared the results of the analysis exclusively with Marijuana Moment. The dataset was based on more than 210,000 anonymized patient records.
One of the key findings concerns health conditions that people cite as the reason for seeking out medical cannabis. State programs vary in what is considered a qualifying condition for marijuana, with some restricting it to a specific list of illnesses and others giving doctors discretion to recommend cannabis for whatever maladies they see fit.
The report found that, across the U.S., most people receive medical marijuana recommendations for chronic pain (26.3 percent), anxiety (18.9 percent) and post-traumatic stress disorder (12.4 percent).
Notably, about eight percent of patients cited “unlisted condition,” the data shows.
“This could be due to the patient’s primary condition not being considered a qualifying condition in some states and thus not included in our selection of conditions,” NuggMD’s Alexandra Arnett wrote in the report. “Likewise, the symptoms they seek to treat using medical cannabis may not have a specific diagnosis.”
A regional breakdown of the data shows significant variation in the conditions that patients say they use cannabis to treat. While anxiety affects about about 10 percent of the national population, only 2 percent of patients in the Midwest list it as the reason for a medical cannabis, compared to nearly half of the patient population in other regions.
States where doctors are empowered to recommend marijuana for any condition also saw higher rates of patients listing “other condition” in their pre-evaluations.
“This suggests that states with fewer qualifying conditions may be 1) deterring patients from seeking the medication they need, or 2) reducing the accuracy of available data by forcing patients in need of medical cannabis to select a comorbidity rather than the primary ailment for which they were seeking an evaluation,” the report says. “A majority of patients in our study listed multiple conditions, which can be expected as many conditions exist co-morbidly.”
“Further research is required to better understand the causes of these variations,” it says. “Such research should seek a greater balance in the number of records reviewed from state to state and include in-person evaluations as well as telehealth data.”
There was additional variation in listed conditions based on the age of the patient, with people under 21 far more likely to seek cannabis for anorexia, for example, and those 51 and older receiving recommendations related to cancer.
“Patients, practitioners, and policymakers can all benefit from gaining access to more—and more complete—information regarding medical cannabis and the conditions it is being used to treat,” the report concludes.
“Access to information about medical cannabis and specific conditions can help these individuals make better, more informed decisions about their health,” it says. “Unfortunately, the data we currently have is limited, and research, particularly in the United States, is restricted due to the plant’s status as a Schedule I drug. In addition, decades of negative propaganda toward cannabis and those who use cannabis are still being dismantled by advocates and patients.”
While advocates want to see marijuana federally legalized, President Joe Biden did sign a bill this month that’s expected to streamline cannabis research. And in October, he directed an administrative review into the federal scheduling of marijuana.
A bipartisan group of 29 congressional lawmakers from both the House and Senate sent a letter to Biden on Thursday, asking that he formally back federal marijuana legalization as the administration carries out the scheduling review.
“The evidence here is clear: medical cannabis works. It provides relief for a wide variety of conditions,” NuggMD co-founder Alex Milligan said in a press release. “More importantly, it’s giving patients an alternative to dangerously addictive, often deadly pharmaceuticals. More than a century of disinformation and propaganda peddled by cannabis foes does not change these facts.”
Read the full study on medical cannabis patient data below: