Mar 25, 2021

Navigating Medical Marijuana at Your Practice

Helen Farnen   |   Updated June 28   |  Reading time: 3 minutes


Marijuana’s medical potential has been gaining momentum both in scientific communities as well as in public consciousness. Thirty-three states have legalized medical marijuana programs, and 14 of those states have legalized marijuana for recreational use. The Pew Research Center estimated that two-thirds of Americans are in favor of legalizing marijuana for both medical and recreational use. 

According to Pew, most of those who opposed marijuana use were from the “silent generation” (born between 1928 to 1945). The vast majority of younger generations (Boomers, Gen X, and Millennials) favored the use of marijuana for medical purposes or recreationally. Research suggests that legal medical marijuana use in all 50 states is just a matter of time.

How Cannabis Is Being Used in Medicine

Marijuana, or cannabis, as it is commonly referred to in the healthcare field, is allowing chronically ill patients to relieve severe pain legally. It is often prescribed in lieu of opioids and is also being used to treat cancer patients from pain, nausea, and loss of appetite. 

But what exactly is Cannabis? Cannabinoids are naturally occurring compounds found in the Cannabis sativa plant. Of the 480 compounds in the plant, 66 are cannabinoids. Some well-known cannabinoids in Cannabis sativa include delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (Δ9-THC) and Cannabidiol (CBD), which makes up about 40% of the plant resin extract. Such cannabinoids have been shown to have potential treatment value for some patients, dependent on the brain area involved.  

In response to changing regulations, the Institute of Medicine issued a 1999 report that examined the potential medical uses for medical marijuana. The report found strong scientific data supporting the therapeutic value of cannabinoid drugs—primarily THC—for pain relief, control of nausea and vomiting, and appetite stimulation. The study also found positive psychological effects of cannabinoids, including anxiety reduction, sedation, and euphoria influencing potential therapeutic value. 

COVID-19 and Medical Cannabis

One of the medicinal properties of cannabinoids under review is the prevention and treatment of COVID-19. Potential benefits include CBD’s anti-inflammatory properties, which can act as a vasorelaxant, as well as its ability to reduce pain and anxiety. Other studies under review suggest that whole-plant cannabis extracts that reduce blood coagulation may be able to counteract negative systemic effects of COVID-19 related to altered coagulation.

However, concerns and potential risks remain surrounding the prevention and treatment of COVID-19 with cannabinoids. Such adverse effects include marijuana smoke, which harms the cells of the respiratory system in a similar fashion to tobacco. Alternative methods of delivery have been suggested to counteract this side effect. Other adverse effects include those upon the limbic system, which may alter memory, cognition, and psychomotor performance.

Medical Marijuana and Compliance

With some ambiguity between state and federal laws, it can be difficult for healthcare providers to navigate the world of medical marijuana compliance. Regardless, practices must develop policies regarding patients and employees who possess medical marijuana cards.  

For example, how do prescribers code and get reimbursed for medical marijuana claims? Codes should be specific and will vary. Insurers have stated that non-specific diagnosis codes have appeared on submitted medical bills using the International Classification of Diseases (ICD). It is critical that practices use specific codes to prevent delays or denials of reimbursements. 

The International Classification of Diseases – 10th Revision, Clinical Modification (ICD-10-CM) provides specific codes and updates, and each state allows and provides codes for varying conditions. For example, the following codes apply for the treatment of these areas: 

M79.604 – Pain in right lower limb, not otherwise specified.

G89.21 – Chronic pain due to trauma.

M54.5 – Lower back pain.

With ever-changing policies and guidelines surrounding compliance, it’s critical that your prescriptions be checked against the most updated regulations. RXNT’s E-Prescribing software is EPCS-certified by the DEA and provides real-time access to patients’ medical histories and prescribed medications. Our Electronic Health Records and Medical Billing software offer the most up-to-date ICD-10 and CPT codes for accurate billing and faster reimbursement of treatments involving medical marijuana.

Through accurate data, your practice can confidently make better-informed decisions and efficiently manage coverage and reimbursement. With the accuracy, efficacy, and value of RXNT software, you can better manage the shifting landscape of marijuana as a treatment option. 

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