Dispensaries are well known as places where patients can obtain medical marijuana products, but safe access is just one of many benefits to establishing regulated medical marijuana programs. Consider, for example, new data from the CDC showing that Americans are using marijuana more responsibly:
Marijuana abuse and dependency are becoming less common, even as states roll back restrictions on the use of the drug, according to a new federal report.
In 2014, the number of Americans aged 12 and over meeting diagnostic criteria for marijuana abuse or dependency stood at 1.6 percent, a decline from 1.8 percent in 2002, according to the report released Thursday by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Declines in marijuana abuse and dependency were greatest among teens (37 percent decrease) and young adults (18 percent decrease) over that period. The change in marijuana abuse and dependency among adults age 26 and older was not statistically meaningful, according to the CDC. [Washington Post]
This result is very encouraging and should provide some important perspective towards addressing concerns about how young Americans might be affected by medical marijuana laws. While multiple factors may contribute to positive public health trends, it’s important to recognize that declining rates of marijuana abuse and dependency have been achieved even while significantly increasing access for approved patients.
Dispensaries provide a safe and health-focused environment in which patients can obtain marijuana. Many patients have reported to us that obtaining cannabis outside the dispensary setting can be a difficult, disappointing and sometimes frightening experience. Once patients are removed from negative surroundings, it’s easier to develop a healthy relationship with cannabis that’s built on a foundation of education and accountability. One of the primary goals of any well-regulated medical marijuana program is to ensure that patients can access marijuana safely and legally. Once this goal is achieved, it’s easier for patients and providers to promote responsible behavior.
Personal Attention and Care
By building personal relationships with their patients, dispensaries are able to provide insight and guidance that would likely be unavailable in other settings. Patients are made to feel welcome and encouraged to share their health goals and experiences with the sales staff. Experienced employees can make recommendations about product selection and dosage based on knowledge of the patient’s condition. This relationship empowers patients to make better choices and consume cannabis in a way that’s consistent with their individual needs. Abuse and dependence are less likely to occur when each patient has access to science-based guidance on how to use cannabis appropriately.
Product Quality and Selection
The sophisticated breeding and cultivation techniques employed by modern medical marijuana cultivators create customized solutions for patients with specific needs. By identifying the right strain or product for their unique symptoms, a patient may be able to better treat their condition without experiencing unpleasant side effects or other unwanted outcomes. Patients learn to titrate (adjust) their dose to achieve the desired benefits without becoming overmedicated.
Furthermore, advanced genetics such as strains with elevated levels of CBD offer symptom relief without intoxication, creating revolutionary new options for patients seeking a milder cerebral experience. Laboratory testing and labeling for potency and purity provide critical guidance to patients who wish to moderate their consumption and anticipate the effects of the products they consume. Cumulatively, this knowledge serves to facilitate smarter approaches to cannabis consumption that mitigate negative outcomes and reduce potentially unhealthy experimentation.
Changing the Conversation
Overall, the collective efforts of patients, providers, physicians, public officials and other stakeholders to establish well-regulated medical marijuana programs serves to advance a forward thinking approach to the role of medical marijuana in promoting public health. As the dialogue grows more visible and data become more available, individuals who may benefit from medical cannabis have access to the information and support they need. Responsible marijuana use is a more achievable goal when positive messages are presented to the public. Education serves to assist individuals in understanding when the use of cannabis can be beneficial and when it may not. By changing the way marijuana consumers understand their own behavior and experiences, an evidence-based approach to medical marijuana serves as an important intervention against unhealthy choices.
Of course, we also recognize that this important work is just beginning. We’re excited to see strong statistical evidence that Americans are using marijuana more responsibly, and we expect that the relationship between licensed medical marijuana businesses and positive public health trends will continue to be studied and discussed. At the core of our work rests the desire to make a difference in the lives of patients and we have the privilege of observing outcomes every day that warm our hearts and remind us why we’re here. As new research continues to expand our understanding of the relationship between marijuana and public health, we’re confident that the medical cannabis conversation will become more interesting, encouraging and inclusive than ever before.