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CDC Urges Doctors to Stop Testing Patients for Marijuana

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Author: Shernide Delva

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does not believe doctors should test  patients for marijuana. As a result, they have revised their screening guidelines to ensure that physicians only focus on the problem at hand.

Earlier this month, the CDC changed their policy because the marijuana tests presented unnecessary costs. They also are relatively unreliable. A report by the Pain News Network reported in the past that 21 percent of positive results are false and 21 percent of negative results are positive. The CDC found that testing for marijuana resulted in few health benefits and more potential legal consequences for the patient.

“Clinicians should not test for substances for which results would not affect patient management or for which implications for patient management are unclear,” says the updated CDC guideline for prescribing opioids. “For example, experts noted that there might be uncertainty about the clinical implications of a positive urine drug test for tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).”

In the past, routine drug tests were done to chronic pain patients to monitor abusive behavior. However, the CDC has now made it clear that physicians should only drug test on chronic pain patients when it is necessary.

“Restricting confirmatory testing to situations and substances for which results can reasonably be expected to affect patient management can reduce costs of urine drug testing, given the substantial costs associated with confirmatory testing methods,” the CDC added.

A 2014 analysis published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that states with medical marijuana laws had a 24.8 lower annual opioid mortality rate compared to states without medical cannabis laws.  Research shows that many use marijuana as an alternative to opioid painkillers. Chronic pain patients may find they have to take less opioid or stop taking them all together. The Journal of Pain found that chronic pain patients who had access to legal cannabis had a significant decrease in opioid use, an increase in quality of life, and fewer side effects.

All of these studies suggest that marijuana could be a safe alternative to pain killers for some patients. Also, cannabis has no lethal overdose level, while opioid overdoses are killer close to 19 Americans each day.

With all that said, CDC spokesperson Ellen Komp, states that a positive test for THC may not be helpful information for a doctor and could pose legal ramifications for the patient. She continued in saying that testing for marijuana would not “inform patient care decisions” and has more adverse effects than good.

Just like any mind-altering substance, marijuana can be addictive; however for those with chronic pain, marijuana can be a safe alternative to opioid painkillers. Pain is a complex phenomenon made up of various physical, mental and social components. Pain is our body’s way of signaling that something is wro­­ng. However, when that pain does not go away despite treatments, that pain is known as chronic pain.

Chronic pain can have a range of causes and the reasons for chronic pain have been debated for years in the medical community. Pain medications known as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are often the first approach to treating pain. They are non-addictive and relatively efficient. However, NSAIDs are not always strong enough, and that is when more powerful painkiller medications known as opioids are used. Unfortunately, these opioid pain medications have a tendency to form dependency in many people.

The use of marijuana for pain relief has a long history. However, recently cannabis has received increased attention after several clinical trials reveal the benefits marijuana had on managing pain for chronic pain sufferers.

Still, we are just at the beginning of understanding the benefits of using cannabis for pain management. Therefore, do you agree with the new CDC guidelines? Clearly, it could be a potential harm reduction strategy to reduce the amounts of overdoses occurring due to opioid painkillers. Only time will tell. Remember if you are struggling with any form of substance dependency that you are not alone.  If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135.

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