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Lynch: Who Knew? Medical Marijuana Works (at Least for Chronic Pain)

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Dr. Dean Hashimoto is a highly respected researcher and teacher, practicing at Massachusetts’ Partners Health Care (think Harvard and Massachusetts General Hospital) and teaching at Boston College Law School. At WCRI’s Annual Conference March 2, his topic was "Medical Marijuana and Workers’ Compensation: Recent Scientific, Legal and Policy Developments."

He led off with the results of a January 2017 scientific report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (NAS). The NAS report is a comprehensive, in-depth review of evidence regarding the health effects and potentially therapeutic uses of medical marijuana (cannabis). The report arrived at nearly 100 research conclusions categorized by the weight of evidence (conclusive, substantial, moderate, limited, no or insufficient).

One of the report’s conclusions that had “conclusive and substantial support” was this: Medical marijuana is proven to improve chronic pain in adults. There is “moderate” support for the conclusion that medical marijuana improves short-term sleep outcomes for both fibromyalgia and chronic pain.

Of course, there are downsides. The report also concludes (duh!) that medical marijuana carries with it an increased risk of motor vehicle crashes. Also, there was conclusive, substantial support that taking medical marijuana can lead to the development of schizophrenia and other psychoses. Yikes!

The NAS report also investigated whether there was an association between cannabis and occupational injury. The conclusion? There was no conclusion, because the available studies do not permit one to be made with any degree of certainty.

The bottom line? Medical marijuana presents a potentially therapeutic benefit in the treatment of chronic pain.

Well, that’s not really the bottom line. No, because the larger issue is this: Medical marijuana is being used in a number of states.

Along with Dr. Hashimoto, we also heard compelling stories from Paul Sighinolfi, of Maine’s Workers’ Compensation Board, and Paul Tauriello, of the Colorado Division of Workers’ Compensation, describing the successful medical use of cannabis, which is generating momentum in both states toward its therapeutic use. Trouble is, the usage of marijuana in any form is federally illegal in every state.

Seems there is a collision coming, and it may not be pretty.

Tom Lynch is a principal with Lynch Ryan & Associates, a Massachusetts-based employer consulting firm. This column was reprinted with his permission from his Workers' Comp Insider blog.

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