The U.S. healthcare system and medical cannabis

The global cannabis market is rapidly expanding and, as such, is expected to have a significant effect on the global economic metrics. In countries where cannabis use has been decriminalized, different policies have been enacted to monitor and regulate cannabis use in the population. Over the decades, different research inquiries have confirmed the vast therapeutic benefits of cannabis in human medicine. This has positioned cannabis-derived products as viable alternatives to conventional drugs in organized healthcare systems. As expected, the U.S. healthcare system operates on an intricate network of policies that strictly regulate health insurance, medication use, and prescribing patterns. 

The U.S. healthcare system is a public and private-funded venture of fragmented programs accessible to a bulk of the population. In 2018, verified data sources reported that the U.S. spent about 17% of its gross domestic product on the healthcare system—a value twice as much as that reported for any Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development country. Per capita spending from private sources includes employer-sponsored insurance coverage plans. Feelers from residents suggest that the affordability of healthcare in the U.S. differs along the spectrum. On average, U.S. residents spend an estimated $1,122 personal health fund for services, including prescription drugs, insurance deductibles, and copayment for doctor visits . This constitutes the most prominent barrier to healthcare in the United States.

In all indications, the healthcare system is the U.S. advances steadily in drug volumes and medical instruments available for use. In 2018, the American Academy of Actuaries published an issue brief detailing the values of prescription drug spending in the U.S. healthcare system. As published, the U.S. spent about $339 billion on prescription drugs in 2016. In 2018, a modification of the 2014 Farm Bill was passed. Officially known as the Agricultural Improvement Act, this 2018 version of the Farm Bill federally legalized hemp-sourced CBD and removed it from the Scheduled 1 banned drugs list. This bill is considered a reference point for cannabis use in the United States. Although its provisions allow cannabis cultivation beyond pilot programs as in 2014, the issue of medical cannabis is still controversial. 

Different advocacy groups are currently driving the call for federal legislation backing the use of cannabis in the U.S. healthcare system. Some states have, however, legalized the use of cannabidiol for the adjunctive treatment of chronic diseases. With the introduction of medical cannabis in the U.S. healthcare system, the spending on prescription drugs has been projected to increase significantly in the coming years.


Complying with medical cannabis use in the U.S. healthcare system

On the federal level, cannabis is considered illegal in the United States with the FDA banning its use in drug products and supplements. However, a growing number of states have decriminalized the use of cannabis and infused cannabis products for medical use under a strictly regulated program. As of January 2020, 34 states allows cannabis use for medical purposes. In these states policymakers have designed a network of rules that guide the prescription and dispensing of cannabis products for special patients.

In Hawaii patients medically verified to benefit from medical cannabis are enrolled under the Medical Cannabis Registry Program. Licensed prescribers and dispensaries under this program are allowed to administer a range of cannabis products to qualified patients. By extension, patients enrolled in the medical cannabis program of other states may also benefit from the provision of the Medical Cannabis Registry Program while visiting Hawaii. In 2016, voters in Florida approved the provisions of Amendment 2, a medical cannabis use policy in Florida also known as the Florida Medical Marijuana Initiative. This initiative allows the use of medical cannabis for certain medical conditions and broadens the perspectives of the Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act, initially proposed two years earlier but which failed to garner a majority vote


Provisions of Florida’s Amendment 2 states that residents or temporary residents of Florida diagnosed with a qualifying condition—ALS, Cancer, PTSD, HIV/AIDS, Multiple Sclerosis, Epilepsy, and Glaucoma—can be added to the Medical Marijuana Use Registry. Enrollees are issued a patient identification card that allows them to legally purchase medical cannabis. Provisions of this amendment also allow medical cannabis use to treat other diagnosable, debilitating conditions of like, kind, or class as well as terminal conditions and chronic nonmalignant pain. 

In Minnesota provisions of the Medical Cannabis Program regulate the use of cannabis for medical purposes. In Illinois the medical use of cannabis products is backed by the Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Program Act. All cannabis users enrolled under this program are issued a card that allows the purchase of cannabis products from licensed dispensaries. Across each state where medical cannabis is allowed for use, a legislative structure exists that regulates prescribing, procurement use, and possession.  


Impacts of medical cannabis in the U.S. healthcare system

Primarily, the introduction of cannabis products in U.S. healthcare expands the pool of options available for the adjunctive treatment of chronic medical conditions. Patients who cannot afford the expensive insurance cover needed for drugs used in the management of neurodegenerative and chronic diseases can now enroll under state medical cannabis programs. Opioids are the first-line therapy in the management of chronic pain. In 2018, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reported that over 10 million people misused opioids in 2018 alone. Since cannabis products have been proven to improve pain sensation in chronically ill patients, prescribers have considered exploring cannabis products in pain management. Medical cannabis has been tipped to solve the opioid crisis currently ravaging the U.S. healthcare system. 

Cannabis is offering a novel treatment approach for addiction recovery in patients attempting to quit substance use. This is particularly important in patients with substance use disorders. For patients undergoing chemotherapy and enrolled under a state medical cannabis program, cannabis products can be used for the management of chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting. In all, medical cannabis can improve disease prognosis and significantly improve the U.S. healthcare system’s performance index. The push for the federal legalization of medical cannabis is on, and it is expected to change the landscape of health policies in the U.S. in the coming years.



Ian Parkes

Ian has been writing for a number of high growth industries for the past decade. Having plied his trade in the craft beer industry, Ian drew parallels between that and the world of CBD and soon became fascinated. Ian enjoys writing about innovation in the industry, particularly as it relates to the development of the leading brands.

See all posts by Ian Parkes

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