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The Psychology of Pain and Marijuana Treatment in the Context of Workers’ Compensation – What’s Next for Florida Claims?

By: Marian Greer, Associate, Sarasota

On a national level, there are claimant-friendly changes underway. According to industry commentators, trends toward lowering the cost of care, political changes in many states, and a more holistic view of injuries may impact the industry. Here in the Sunshine State, continued developments in what might be called “liberal” judicial decisions could lead to an expansion of treatment tools for both pain and the psychological effects of pain. This is especially true considering the State of Florida recently approved medical marijuana legislation.

The “psychology of pain” refers to the biological, emotional, and social factors that impact symptoms of pain as perceived by a recovering injured worker. Whenever a Claimant’s circumstances or condition leads to them focusing on their own pain, studies indicate that their pain actually worsens. As such, employers and claims teams are addressing this issue by adding pain philosophy into their current programs. Oftentimes this includes creating pain assessment tools and partnering with pain expert to consult on complex cases. It is here that the introduction of medical marijuana may present.

Throughout the country, marijuana is increasingly being prescribed for the treatment of chronic pain, and Florida is joining this trend with legislative approval for medical marijuana. Under §381.986, marijuana may be legally prescribed to treat “chronic nonmalignant pain” which is defined as “pain that is either caused by or originates from, a qualifying medical condition.” Some are suggesting that marijuana may be more effective than opiates. In one recent study, participants using cannabis for pain management graded its effectiveness at 6.5 out of 10 in reducing physical and psychological pain and distress. Thirty percent of participants reported a reduced use of opioid pain medications as a result of using cannabis. Per Angela Bryan, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at the University of Colorado, Boulder, “[t]he evidence thus far suggests that cannabis is moderately effective for pain relief.” There is some evidence that cannabinoids are strongest in treating nerve pain (neuropathy). Given the high rates of neuropathy reported by injured workers in Florida, combined with increased attention to opiate addiction, the use of cannabis for these conditions will likely increase.

It’s worth noting that there are self-described ‘workers compensation psychologists’ who offer injured workers psychotherapy, pain management, and more.  We can expect these providers will contribute to the push of medical marijuana being prescribed in place of opiate pain medications for the treatment of “chronic nonmalignant pain.” For more on the handling of requests for reimbursement of medical marijuana in the context of a Florida workers’ compensation claim, please see the recent Eraclides Gazette article by Russ Young.