Do you know the difference between acute and chronic pain? Now that the Utah Legislature has added acute pain to the Medical Cannabis qualifying conditions list, you might qualify for a temporary Medical Cannabis Card at some point in the future.
There are restrictions to treating acute pain with Medical Cannabis. Still, expanding the list to include acute pain is a pretty big deal. We are thrilled the legislature has taken that step. With that in mind, let’s talk about acute and chronic pain.
For the purposes of defining chronic pain in state law, legislators decided that pain lasting more than two weeks was the starting point. That's fine. There are other states that do not consider pain chronic until it lasts three weeks. Either way, chronic pain is pain that persists over an extended period of time.
It may be experienced every day. Then again, a patient may only feel pain every few days. The key is that it persists longer than two weeks. Now, here is where it gets tricky. The recent rule change also utilizes the two-week threshold as the starting point for qualifying acute pain.
The law specifically states that patients expecting to experience acute pain for more than two weeks may qualify for a temporary Medical Cannabis card. What makes acute pain different is its cause. It is not the result of a chronic illness. Rather, it is the result of a sudden event – like an injury or surgery.
It is interesting that the new rule specifically mentions surgery as a cause of qualifying acute pain. Even though surgeries are intended to ultimately help, they do cause injury by their very nature. Consider hip replacement surgery. In order to replace a hip, the surgeon has to damage existing tissue; there's no way around it. Recovering from a major surgery like this can be quite painful.
From a treatment standpoint, acute pain is just as likely as chronic pain to be treated with opioids. It is no coincidence that the new law also references opioid treatment.
Patients who are expecting to experience post-surgery pain for more than two weeks may qualify for a temporary Medical Cannabis card if their pain would otherwise have been treated with opioids. In essence, changing the qualifying conditions list gives patients a second option. They don't have to take opioid painkillers if they do not want to.
If you are considering Medical Cannabis for chronic pain or are expecting acute pain as a result of a future event, we encourage you to talk to your medical provider about your options. You might not have to settle for over-the-counter medications that don't work well. You might not have to fill an opioid prescription just to get relief. Medical Cannabis could be your best pain management option.
Chronic and acute pain are defined differently for legal purposes. But in terms of management and treatment, they both qualify for Medical Cannabis in Utah under the right circumstances. We think this is good, and we expect a lot of Utah patients will agree.