Trending News Today: Benefits, Risks of Medical Marijuana Questioned

Top news of the day from across the health care landscape.

The precise health effects marijuana has on an individual is not fully understood, according to The Los Angeles Times. Medicinal or recreational marijuana use is approved in 28 states plus the District of Columbia, and nationwide legal sales of the drug reached approximately $7.1 billion last year. Although more than 22 million Americans use some form of marijuana each month, a comprehensive new report found the specific health effects marijuana has on individuals who use it is unclear, and the federal government continues to create major barriers for research, the LA Times reported. The report assessed more than 10,000 studies that examined marijuana’s relationship with cancers, psychiatry, accidents, and other health problems. They concluded that marijuana and products that mimic its psychoactive effects can provide effective treatment for chronic pain and help with sleeping problems. Furthermore, cannabis and cannabinoids effectively ease chemotherapy-induced nausea in cancer patients and spasticity in patients with multiple sclerosis, according to the LA Times. The report also detailed substantial evidence that pregnant women who use marijuana are more likely to give birth to smaller babies. Strong evidence showed a link between long-term pot-smoking and worsened respiratory symptoms, as well as more frequent episodes of chronic bronchitis. The authors warned that many of the conditions patients use medical marijuana to treat have little or no research demonstrating its efficacy, including epilepsy and Parkinson’s disease symptoms, the LA Times reported. “This lack of evidence-based information on the health effects of cannabis and cannabinoids poses a public health risk,” a panel of experts said in the report.

While the trial-and-error nature of vaccine development can cause delays of more than 10 years, scientists say that they don’t have a decade to find a Zika virus vaccine, according to The Washington Post. One way to speed up the development of a Zika vaccine would be to conduct a separate trial with a vaccine that contains live virus. A decision on the matter will come later this month, although scientists are aware of the difficulties in recruiting for such a controversial trial. The Zika virus has been deemed a significant and enduring public health challenge by the World Health Organization.

As Republican legislators work to replace the Affordable Care Act, lawmakers are left to determine who pays the tab for expensive patients with pre-existing conditions. According to The Wall Street Journal, individuals who are sick are expensive to cover, and the question remains as to who will pay if policyholders do not? Both parties have ruled out allowing insurers to refuse to sell to individuals with pre-existing conditions, ultimately forcing some sick patients to pay for themselves. Although some insurers could charge patients more, or have taxpayers pay the extra costs, the potential options are fraught with political landmines, the Journal reported.