Millions of Americans currently rely on cannabis, in some form or another, for symptom relief. If current trends hold, millions more will join their ranks in the coming years. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine has published a comprehensive review of medical cannabis research and found that cannabis is safe and has extensive therapeutic value. Recent research even suggests that in some circumstances cannabis may be the most effective treatment for certain conditions that are particularly treatment resistant such as neuropathy, epilepsy, and IBS. Further, in the midst of a nationwide opioid addiction epidemic that continues to spiral out of control, one public policy that appears to ease some of the associated problems is legalized medical cannabis.
Because of the federal government’s classification of cannabis as a drug of abuse with no accepted medical applications, patients and providers face important hurdles. From banking to insurance subsidies, federal interference means that medical cannabis is more expensive and inaccessible than other medicines.
Many of those currently enjoying the benefits of medical cannabis do so even though prescribed or over-the-counter medication for their conditions are often cheaper and easier to obtain. Getting medical cannabis entails a visit to a doctor that is often not the patient’s primary care provider and and often the visit requires a large out of pocket payment. Once approved, the patient must then go to a dispensary which may or may not be near their home, choose from a variety of strains and products advised by someone without medical training, and pay completely out of pocket for their medicine. Prescription medication, on the other hand, only requires a visit to one’s primary care provider and a trip to the local pharmacy, both of which are generally covered by one’s health insurance.
The current system makes cannabis less available to the people who could benefit the most. Seniors on a fixed income and a myriad of health problems often cannot afford the extra inconvenience and out of pocket expenses. The same goes for the disabled and children on medicaid. Medical understanding and public opinion have long moved away from the federal government’s classification of cannabis. The debate on whether cannabis should be legalized is nearly settled. The next important conversation is how we integrate cannabis into the established medical system and make it accessible and affordable for all.