Two Surveys Show What Consumers Know about Cannabis

More research and more access are needed before medical marijuana becomes mainstream. 

When it comes to managing pain, non-pharmacological methods aim to provide better treatment methods that have less of a risk for abuse and misuse. Research continues to be made in these alternative and complementary methods of treatment. One such alternative, medical cannabis, including marijuana, remains an illegal, controlled substance at the federal level. However, as of September 2019, approximately 34 states (including Washington, DC) have legalized marijuana for recreational or medicinal use in some fashion.

As more people seek out cannabis for medicinal use, experts suggest that more education is needed for both consumers and practitioners alike to fully understand its potential benefits and long-term side effects. Two reports issued in August 2019 from the American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA) and Americans for Safe Access provide new data on this rising tide.

As more states create or add to their medical cannabis programs, more patients are taking notice. (Source: 123RF)

Concerns Regarding Public Awareness

ASA released a nationwide survey of 1,005 adults (503 men and 502 women), in conjunction with September’s Pain Awareness Month, on the public’s awareness of marijuana. More than two-thirds of respondents said that they have or would consider using marijuana or cannabinoid compounds (these include cannabidiol [CBD] and tetrahydrocannabinol [THC]) to manage pain. Of those saying they have already used them for pain, millennials (37%) led the category, followed by Generation Xers (25%), and Baby Boomers (18%).

Approximately 75% of those who expressed interest in using marijuana or cannabinoids for pain said they think that these substances are safer or have fewer side effects than opioids or other medications (62% of those who used the drug believed that they are safer and 57% who used the drug believed that they have fewer side effects).

Other noteworthy responses included:

  • 57% believe more research on cannabis is needed
  • 34% don’t feel the need to discuss medical marijuana usage with their doctor
  • 48% think they know what they are getting with marijuana or cannabinoids (despite a lack of regulation that may cause dangerous synthetics, pesticides, and other impurities possibly making their way into the cannabis drug)
  • 40% believe that CBD sold at grocery stores, truck stops, etc., is FDA-approved (the younger the generation, the more likely they were to believe this common misconception)

In a press release, ASA expressed concern for this lack of awareness, combined with the fact that these products are not regulated or monitored for quality. Although widely available, CBD, for example, remains unregulated (FDA has only approved one prescription version of CBD, Epidiolex, for patients with Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome, two rare forms of epilepsy) and there are concerns about the quality, testing, and dosage of individual products reaching the hands of consumers.

The ASA reported that it is continuing to make strong headway into the fight for more awareness behind medical marijuana, endorsing two federal bills that seek to expand research (The Medical Cannabis Research Act of 2019 and the Cannabidiol and Marijuana Research Expansion Act). Since 2019, in fact, more than 2,000 bills have been introduced across the country that have dealt with creating or amending existing cannabis programs.

Grading State Medical Cannabis Programs 

Americans for Safe Access, a member-based organization working to ensure safe and legal access to cannabis for therapeutic uses and research, released a 2019 report card, the “2019 State of the States Report: An Analysis of Medical Cannabis Access in the United States” in conjunction with the August 2019 National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) Summit in Nashville, TN. The report provides a detailed analysis of 47 (including Washington, DC) states’ medical cannabis programs on an “A” to “F” grading scale.

States were assessed under six categories:

  1. patient rights and civil protections
  2. access to medicine
  3. ease of navigation
  4. functionality
  5. consumer safety and provider requirements
  6. medical cannabis as a tool in combating the opioid epidemic.

At the top of the list, Illinois and Oregon received top marks for their medical cannabis programs, grading at an “A-.” On the flipside, states that limit access to low-THC products or cannabidiol-only received a failing “F” grade (Alabama, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, Nebraska, North Carolina, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming). Of note, West Virginia also received a failing grade despite passing legislation for a comprehensive medical cannabis program due to heavy delays in implementation. In addition, Virginia, which allows tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA) and CBD to be recommended for any condition, still received a failing grade as products have yet to be distributed and limitations on formulations still remain for patients.

For the first time since the annual grade report was first released in 2014, this year - 2019 - was the first year that any state broke through the “A” grade.

Also of note, Americans for Safe Access conducted a survey (of over 500 participants) in 2018 as part of its 2019 data, revealing that 88.5% of medical cannabis users believe that their current medicine is not affordable. While some states have worked to clarify the role of insurance in regard to medical cannabis, no state has yet to adopt a law that permits or requires insurance companies to cover costs.


If you’re interested in learing more about medical cannabis as part of your treatment plan for pain, talk to your doctor. For help getting the conversation started, check out our tips on talking to your doctor and on navigating cannabis options.


See our poll on whether PPM readers are using cannabis for pain.

Updated on: 11/05/19
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