Over 4 Million Patients Enrolled in MMJ Programs

Stephen Andrews
17 Apr 2024

A new federal study has looked at the number of medicinal marijuana patients registered with state-legal medical programs. The report points to a 610% grow rate since 2016, indicating a wider cultural acceptance of using cannabis as medicine. Chronic pain is the most common health reason why people reach for the therapeutic plant.

The number of registered patients with legal medical marijuana programs around the U.S. increased notably over the last eight years, says a new federal study. 

Researchers with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the University of Michigan, wrote that the increased interest in medical cannabis comes at a time when using the plant has become more culturally acceptable, but also amid recognition of the harm caused by the War on Drugs. 

Another highlighted factor is the growing body of scientific evidence that supports the therapeutic gains from using cannabis. 

Between 2020 and 2022, the number of U.S. cannabis patients climbed by nearly a third. Or from 3.1 million enrolled patients in 2020 to 4.1 million in 2022, according to the report. 

The researchers sourced their data from 39 U.S. jurisdictions with legal medicinal cannabis, of which 34 reported patient enrollment, 19 provided information on qualifying conditions, and 29 shared the number of physicians authorized to recommend cannabis. 

However, data from the largest medical market, the Californian one, was not accounted for in the study as California only keeps a voluntary registry where the figures may not be entirely accurate. 

Federal Study Prompted by Possible Reschedule of Marijuana

The current research is a follow-up analysis ahead of a potential rescheduling of cannabis to Schedule III under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). 

The number of registered MMJ patients in the U.S. grew from 678,000 in 2016 to more than 3 million in 2020, and those figures did need an update anyhow. 

 “Given this potential federal policy shift, which would acknowledge therapeutic potential of cannabis and reduce research barriers, understanding the current national landscape of medical cannabis use and authorization patterns is essential to help inform future public health efforts related to cannabis,” the study team noted. 

Pandemic May Have Influenced Number of MMJ Patients

Beyond the growing number of states introducing liberal laws on the use of cannabis, the researchers suggested that pandemic-era policies may have also played a part in the increased number in patient enrollment. 

Cannabis was designated as an ‘essential’ good during the COVID-19 period, therefore it remained available through delivery services and curbside pickups. That may have prompted an additional interest in the herbal medicine. 

The pandemic may have influenced “the number of people who obtained cannabis licensure for anxiety and PTSD because pandemic-related stress often resulted in worsened mental health conditions,” the authors noted. 

Legal Recreational Markets Associated with Enrollment Fall 

The study further notes that states with full cannabis legalization, which includes recreational uses, have generally seen a decline in patient registration. 

Just two out of 15 jurisdictions, or only Massachusetts and Maine, observed grow in new patient enrollment during the period included in the study. Everywhere else there has been a decline in registrations. 

The fall in enrollment rate is most noticeable in Arizona, where, according to the report, there were nearly 300,000 patients in 2020 and slightly less than 130,000 in 2022, which is only a year after Arizona regulated adult-use. 

Chronic Pain the Most Common Reason Why People Seek MMJ 

Of all qualifying medical conditions for which patients can get a recommendation for medicinal marijuana, chronic pain remains by far the most common one. 

In 2022, the number of patients who purchased medicinal marijuana to treat chronic pains stood at almost 935,000, which still represents a drop from the nearly 1,120,000 chronic pain patients registered in 2020. 

With close to 400,000 patients, PTSD is another fairly common health reason for marijuana prescriptions.

The federal research was funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and was recently published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine

Also read on Soft Secrets:

When Can Medicinal Cannabis Help?

What’s the Best Medicinal Cannabis Strain?

Medicinal Cannabis in Combo with Other Meds

Stephen Andrews