Slightly more than 14% of workers recovering from an on-the-job injury used cannabis to help them recover, according to the results of a recent study conducted in Canada, where marijuana has been legalized for both medical and recreational purposes.

To complete the study, which was published this month by BMJ Open Journals, researchers affiliated with the University of Toronto surveyed almost 1,200 Canadians who had received workers’ compensation for an employment-related injury or sickness. 

The researchers interviewed the study participants 18 months and 36 months after their injury or illness. Participants were asked about their use of cannabis over the past year, including questions about whether their use was for the treatment of their work-related condition.

Participants were sorted into three groups including those with no past-year cannabis use, those who used cannabis for their work-related injury and respondents who use cannabis unrelated to the workplace injury. Researchers then compared sociodemographic, work and health characteristics across the groups, and reported on the participants’ reasons and patterns for cannabis use, its perceived impacts and patients’ engagement with their healthcare providers.

One In Seven Injured Workers Used Medical Cannabis

Among all respondents, 14.1% (about one in seven) said that they used cannabis medicinally specifically to treat their job-related injuries. In general, the respondents who used medical cannabis to treat their work-related injuries reported experiencing higher levels of pain and more disruption to their sleep than the workers who did not use medical cannabis. About 13% reported cannabis use not related to their workplace injury.

Additionally, most workers who used medical marijuana for their workplace injuries did not discuss their use with their healthcare provider. Other research in both Canada and the United States has shown that many healthcare professionals believe that they have not been adequately prepared to discuss medical cannabis with their patients.

In their conclusion, the researchers wrote that the study gives new insight into the medicinal use of cannabis by workers who are injured on the job.

“Our study provides novel information on workers’ use of cannabis for their work-related conditions, a population for which little data exist,” the authors of the study wrote, adding, “Findings of this study demonstrate workers are turning to cannabis many months following the onset of their original work-related condition.”

The authors of the study recommended that healthcare providers treating patients for work-related injuries talk to them about medical cannabis.

“Although these workers report a beneficial impact of cannabis on their health, they are often using cannabis without medical guidance,” the authors noted. “It is important that healthcare providers caring for injured workers engage in conversations about the potential benefits and risks associated with the therapeutic use of cannabis.”

Workers’ Comp For MMJ

In an analysis of the research, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) noted that U.S. courts have been inconsistent in decisions about whether workers’ compensation should cover medical cannabis in states that have legalized its use. While most states have not explicitly weighed in on the issue, six states including Connecticut, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York and Pennsylvania currently allow worker’s compensation insurance reimbursements for medical cannabis use for a work-related injury. However, seven states—Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Florida, North Dakota, Ohio and Washington—have policies that specifically prohibit such reimbursements.

“Most patients, most physicians, and most state laws view cannabis as a legitimate therapeutic option,” NORML deputy director Paul Armentano wrote in an op-ed from the cannabis reform policy group. “Therefore, the millions of Americans who rely upon medical cannabis products ought to be afforded the same entitlements as those who use other conventional medications and therapies. Those privileges should include insurance-provided reimbursement for medical cannabis treatment.”

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