Last updated: May 25, 2020
Normally, we don’t combine the words “marijuana” and “mortality” together in the same sentence. However, with medical marijuana now legal in 23 states and recreational use allowed in 10 others, insurance companies understandably want to put two and two together.
The new horizon is hazy
To date, studies looking at the marijuana mortality rate and the general population are few and far between.
What effect does using marijuana have on:
- Direct medical effects of marijuana use—primarily respiratory cancers
- Direct behavioral effects—mainly impaired-driving vehicle accidents, but some studies showed suicide to be a factor
- Indirect lifestyle correlates—these are based on other recreational drug use; also some studies showed an increase in high-risk infections such as HIV or HCV
The underwriting criteria for tobacco and alcohol use is long-standing and well-established. Where does the marijuana user fit into the scope of things?
What does the data show?
The need for information becomes more important to insurance carriers by the day. Last year, ExamOne, a Quest Diagnostics company, took it upon themselves to find some answers. The study looks at marijuana mortality compared to an applicant’s age, gender, and tobacco status.
The ExamOne study revealed a fairly strong link regarding men, THC status, and mortality rates.
In looking at the results of the data used by the ExamOne study, the most relevant link is in the lifestyle correlation. The mortality odds ratios were highest regarding illegal drug use combinations. PCP, cocaine, and methamphetamine had the highest stats, but all illegal drugs play a part to some degree. The exception to the rule is barbiturate abuse with results of less than 1%.
This link suggests a meaningful sociocultural barrier between legal and illegal drug users. We saw that one coming a mile away.
Also, PCP use shows the highest mortality rate at 24.8%. This link is representative of the fact that smoking a marijuana and PCP combination is one of the more common modes of consumption for PCP. PCP use is very rare. However, the risk of PCP overdose is high no matter how it is ingested. It is a very dangerous drug.
The ExamOne study notes that, as a whole, it lacks the data to directly test the hypothesis of the behavioral effect of THC and impaired driving. However, a growing number of states have established a statistical link between the two.
In April 2018, The HLDI (Highway Loss Data Institute) released a bulletin entitled Recreational marijuana and collision claim frequencies. It looked directly at data collected from states that have passed marijuana legalization. Although the statistic associated with increased collision rates was just 6%, the data used positively concluded that there is an increased risk among men who were impaired by THC.
Time tells a tale
At the moment, there is not enough evidence to support that marijuana causes respiratory cancers, but studies continue.
The concern is a valid one. Tobacco use causes cancer. Marijuana contains the same carcinogens as tobacco. It stands to reason that continued, long term use will yield the same result. At this time, there is no research that concludes this thought is true.
However, we know that marijuana contains chemicals that are lung irritants and tumor promoters. Also, smoke, in general, is damaging to our lungs. Marijuana smoke is likely to cause COPD with long-term use. This chronic lung disease has no cure.
For now, studies prove an increased rate of accidents in states that have legalized marijuana. Insurance carriers are advised to take a hard look at the driving histories of clients who admit smoking marijuana and noting any indications of other recreational drugs.