Through The Haze: Does Medical Cannabis Benefit Workers Compensation Claims?

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  • Could the legalization of cannabis and psychedelics in workers’ compensation complicate matters, or could it actually be a way to reduce costs? This is part-two of our Through The Haze series. You can find part one here.

    Throughout history, cannabis has been used to treat various ailments, with ancient practitioners believing it could help with everything from arthritis to depression. The first reports stem back to 2800 BC in the pharmacopeia of Emperor Shen Nung, who is considered the grand-daddy of Chinese medicine. However, due to a lack of comprehensive research, it’s difficult to definitively say whether cannabis is truly effective in treating pain, inflammation, depression, and other conditions.

    Nevertheless, many states with medical marijuana laws recognize its use as a pain reliever. A study conducted in 2017 found that 42% of medical marijuana users in the US reported using it for pain, with anxiety and insomnia being other common reasons.

    One area where the science seems to be more settled is the use of THC to help those suffering from PTSD. Studies with large sample sizes have shown a positive impact. This means that if someone who experienced a severe workplace injury also struggles with PTSD, medical cannabis may help them regain a sense of normalcy in their lives. Compassionate care for the employee goes a very long way.

    Can it be a gateway to getaway from harder drugs? Yes.

    Researchers are exploring the possibility of combining THC or CBD with lower-dose opiates to enhance their benefits while minimizing the negative effects. The use of medical cannabis can lead to a significant reduction in opiate use, which is both cheaper and potentially safer. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2022, more than 30% of workers’ comp claims involved at least one opiate prescription, and 27% involved multiple prescriptions.

    Workers Compensation experts are seeing financial benefits to offering medical cannabis as an alternative treatment. Several cases in which transitioning a patient to medical cannabis has helped lower the projected costs from $550,000 to $100,000.

    Moving on to psychedelics, there is emerging interest in their potential therapeutic applications. Recently, there has been growing interest in the idea that psychedelic substances, particularly psilocybin, could be an alternative treatment for both physical injuries and mental health issues.

    Psilocybin, the primary active component in “magic” mushrooms, is one such psychedelic that is gaining attention. Although research on psychedelic drugs is limited, previous studies conducted in the 1950s and 1960s showed promise before federal prohibition halted further research.

    Now, there is a renewed interest in psychedelics within the clinical space. Initial findings suggest that psychedelics may have a significant and lasting impact on chronic pain, addiction, anxiety, and depression, according to the UC San Diego’s Psychedelics and Health Research Initiative (PHRI). Some researchers believe that psychedelics may help rewire the brain, improving pain management and reducing pain perception.

    Like any emerging therapy, there are risks associated with psychedelic drug use. Short-term risks include headaches, elevated heart rate, and nausea. Long-term risks and potential permanent damage are still being studied.

    While both cannabis and psychedelics are shedding their street-drug stigma, it is unlikely that psychedelics will have as broad an impact on workers’ compensation as cannabis. This is primarily due to the limited recognized uses of psychedelics compared to the therapeutic applications of cannabis.

    Ultimately, more research is needed to fully understand the potential benefits and risks of psychedelic therapies. Time will reveal the true impact of these treatments.

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