Rethinking long-term disability with cannabis-assisted return to work

Compared with recreational users, medical cannabis patients frequently use CBD-dominant preparations with the smallest amount of THC to get the greatest improvements in symptom control, function and quality of life with the fewest adverse events, said Michael Koehn, founder of the CannSolve Clinic in British Columbia.

During a session at Benefits Canada’s Chronic Disease at Work conference in Toronto on June 5, Koehn demonstrated how medical cannabis can help an injured employee overcome common obstacles to recovery by providing a brief case study of clinical success.

Read: Has six months of legal cannabis changed the workplace?

The case study featured Luke Grunert, who had been in a motor vehicle accident years prior. He suffered from headaches, neck and upper back pain, sleep disturbance and emotional issues. Grunert wasn’t improving, said Koehn, and it was likely his problems would continue for the foreseeable future. His psychiatrist’s report noted Grunert would be unlikely to return to work in his previous role as an electrician and that he wasn’t competitively employable.

“Now, if anyone in this room who works with insurance and helps people access benefits saw a 34-year-old man and the term ‘not competitively employable,’ I suspect some would think it wasn’t a great situation because, not only is he not thriving, but now there’s potentially another 30 years of benefits to be paid out for this person, with what sort of likelihood he’s going to recover?” said Koehn.

Before working with the CannSolve Clinic, Grunert was self-medicating by smoking cannabis with a high THC content, which provided limited benefits. His budget was $600 a month and he exceeded that regularly. “I wasn’t getting better, I was only getting worse,” said Grunert in a video shown during the presentation.

Grunert also had combined physical and psychological symptoms that were worsening, as well as poor tolerance to activity and stress. He was removed from the workplace on long-term disability, his marriage was failing, his family relationships were affected and he was suicidal with intent, said Koehn.

Read: Legalization of recreational cannabis won’t disrupt distinct medical pot system

“With THC, I had no life,” said Grunert in the video. “It just wiped out my days. My alarm would go off so I could walk down and get my kids because otherwise I would forget. I didn’t know what time it was, my day was just a blur — and that’s not function.”

For chronic conditions and symptoms, long acting oral preparations are the mainstay of treatment, said Koehn, noting CBD can balance THC’s side-effects, especially in daytime use or when driving is required. Once Grunert started using CBD to treat his condition, his THC content plummeted and his budget is now $200 bucks a month.

“Luke no longer requires any disability benefits at all,” said Koehn. “He was a high-risk and high-cost patient. These are the ones you don’t want to see come across your desk. He was then able to use a medically supported treatment. He could overcome the disabling pain and the mental-health symptoms and he got back to work and family and life.”

Read more articles from the 2019 Chronic Disease at Work conference.