While medical marijuana legalization is sweeping the country, Texas is digging its heels in. In the fight to legalize the drug across the nation, Texas has historically demonstrated an extreme unwillingness, while the majority of the other 49 states have been much more open. In the past, Texas has been known for flexing its conservative views enough to throw young people found possessing marijuana in prison for lengthy sentences. Fortunately, the tides there have begun to turn recently.
While the changes have come in the form of baby steps (legalized cannabis oil to treat people suffering from epilepsy, for example), today's Texans overwhelmingly support the legalization of medical marijuana. 71% of Texans state that they would vote to expand cannabis treatments. This does not hold true for recreational marijuana, however, which only 41% of voters are willing to support. So what does the future of medical marijuana look like in one of the country's most conservative states? Here's what you need to know:
The Benefits of Medical Marijuana
The benefits of medical marijuana are well-known and far-reaching. From helping to alleviate nausea resulting from cancer treatments to soothing anxiety and depression, marijuana has long been known for its ability to treat a large assortment of medical disorders. In January of 2016, my organization, HelloMD, conducted a patient survey that made the many benefits of medical marijuana even more evident. The study surveyed more than 17,000 patients and received a response from 1,400 over the course of seven days. I currently believe that this is the largest and most wide-reaching medical marijuana patient survey published to date.
While the benefits of medical marijuana have never been any secret to us, the survey proved just how important it is to consumers, and provided a wealth of information that Texas could do well to take note of. The results? 84% of survey respondents state that cannabis relieves their symptoms. 66% of consumers are using medical marijuana as the primary treatment for their medical problems. 64% of respondents rely on the daily use of cannabis for the treatment of their symptoms, and 28% use cannabis on a weekly basis.
Despite this high number of consumers and regular pattern of medical use, there were no reports within the survey of negative consequences brought about by cannabis use, and 96% of consumers reported being highly likely to recommend the use of medical cannabis to others seeking improved health and wellbeing.
Providing Access: The Importance of Telehealth
The users in our HelloMD survey live around the country and some utilize medical marijuana treatment through the Telehealth system. Unfortunately only patients living in California can utilize the Telehealth system for medical evaluations. Other all others states restrict access and force patients to travel in person to see a physician. In Telehealth medicine, patients can meet with a doctor via a virtual consulting platform like Skype. After the meeting, the patient receives a medical marijuana card in the mail. Telehealth care is rising to prominence around the country as a way to make quality doctors and care available to patients in rural or restricted areas, but it is especially important in the fight to bring medical marijuana access to all patients.
In states like Texas, which is large and mostly rural, access to Telehealth medicine is critically important if marijuana is legalized for medical purposes. Because Texas is a very conservative state, it's likely that the stigma surrounding medical marijuana use would discourage many patients from getting in their cars and visiting a physical clinic located in a major city. Additionally, Texas is such a large state that the mere mechanics of access would be prohibitive for many patients, specifically those who are elderly or physically disabled (200 counties in the state are vastly medically underserved, and 12 more only have one primary care doctor).
Finally, it's likely that, even if medical marijuana was fully legalized in the state, the traditional medical community wouldn't warm up to the prospect immediately. These things would make it incredibly difficult for patients to access the medical marijuana care they needed.
Despite the importance of Telehealth for improving patient access, however, Texas has not supported innovations in Telehealth medicine in the past. The state is currently embroiled in a battle over the legality of access to Telehealth medicine. While lawmakers aren't outlawing it entirely, they are placing severe limitations on it that can make it harder for rural patients to access the care they need.
What Texas can Learn from California
As Texas continues to face the issue of medical marijuana legalization, it stands to learn a great deal from states like California, where Telehealth laws dating to 2011 provide full patient access. As it stands now, thousands of patients throughout the state have access to high-quality medical care from the comfort of their homes. In addition to having significant impacts on patient access, this also provides numerous benefits, such as relief from anxiety and chronic stress. In addition to making access to quality care easier for disabled, rural, or elderly patients, comprehensive Telehealth laws also allow patients who may be struggling with stigma or embarrassment to get the care they need. While the future of medical marijuana in Texas is facing a rocky and lengthy road, it's clear that the expansion of elehealth medicine in the state is one of the few reliable ways to provide medical marijuana care to all Texans who need it.