The increased insurability of regular marijuana users

Opinion

Although some segments of the insurance industry continue to struggle with how to manage group plans within the legal cannabis industry, individual marijuana users face fewer insurance hurdles than ever before. (Photo: iStock) Although some segments of the insurance industry continue to struggle with how to manage group plans within the legal cannabis industry, individual marijuana users face fewer insurance hurdles than ever before. (Photo: iStock)

Until recently, nearly all life insurers’ underwriting guidelines pegged cannabis user insurability akin to that of tobacco cigarette smokers.

Not any longer.

See also: Marijuana from an underwriting perspective

Today, many carriers offer standard and even preferred non-tobacco coverage to most otherwise-qualified adults who consume marijuana while abstaining from tobacco use.

And the number of companies doing this is continuing to increase.

Why this relatively sudden and notably dramatic change?

Because we now have overwhelming evidence that, in most settings, marijuana use confers no increased mortality risk.

The three leading causes of death are cancer, circulatory disease and chronic lung disease. The impact of marijuana use on each has been carefully studied, and here is what various teams of medical investigators have reported:

    • Marijuana is not predictive of having an unfavorable cardiovascular risk profile (elevated blood pressure, obesity, high cholesterol, diabetes and so on).
    • There is no evidence of greater risk of either heart attacks or strokes in cannabis consumers.
    • Circulatory system-related death rates do not differ between marijuana users and abstainers.
    • Marijuana does not appear to be carcinogenic.
    • Non-tobacco using marijuana smokers are not at increased risk for lung cancer. This is also true for malignancies arising in the head and neck area, for which tobacco and alcohol are the main culprits.
    • Cannabis does not induce significant lung damage, and it is not an independent cause of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
    • Clinical pulmonologists, who diagnose and treat lung disease, do not even recommend that marijuana smokers be routinely screened with pulmonary function tests; that is, unless they also happen to indulge in “coffin nails.”

The fourth ranked cause of death is trauma. Among those disposed to purchase individual life coverage, this consists largely of suicides and accidental deaths.

And although some individual anti-marijuana crusaders have suggested a relationship between cannabis and psychosis, particularly in adolescents, there is no proven increased risk of psychiatric disorders overall in adult pot users.

Properly done research has yielded no convincing evidence that marijuana use is associated with suicide.

On the other hand, the effects of alcohol, cannabis, many other “drugs of abuse,” plus those of prescription sleep aids such as benzodiazepines (Valium, etc.) and zolpidem, are all capable of causing motor vehicle accidents.

With regard to fatal accidents, a review of three studies found that while alcohol use profoundly heightens this risk, marijuana has the opposite effect. The odds associated with cannabis consumption were actually less than mathematically expected when pot users did not have a positive blood alcohol test.

Cigarette smoking, on the other hand, is a potent marker for risk-taking behaviors linked to moving violations and vehicle accidents. What's more, a 2014 "Public Health Reports" study found that prescription drug use (especially the aforementioned sleep aids zolpidem and benzodiazepines) accounts for far more drugged-driving fatalities than marijuana.

There have been several investigations of mortality in marijuana users.

The first one, done at Kaiser Permanente in Oakland, showed no excess death risk attributable to pot consumption. More recently, a 30-year study also failed to demonstrate any significantly greater mortality, in this case despite including persons considered “marijuana abusers.”

Various other assessments have reported either no increase in mortality or, as in the case of traumatic brain injury patients, higher survival rates in pot consumers.

And when toxicologists ranked the relative health risks associated with a wide range of drugs:

    • Alcohol and tobacco finished near the top, in the company of cocaine and opioids.
    • Legally doled out benzodiazepines were rated as more dangerous than various other substances including hallucinogens.
    • Marijuana finished “dead” last, consistent with lowest adverse health risk among all 17 mind-altering substances.

Science also has shown that certain strains of cannabis confer medicinal benefits in over 40 disorders. As a result, medical marijuana has already been approved in 24 states and the District of Columbia.

Nevertheless, cannabis remains a Class I (highest risk) drug alongside heroin, methamphetamine, etc.

It retains this absurd status solely because of political and bureaucratic machinations mocking medical reality and common sense.

In consideration of the foregoing evidence, it is easy to see why insurers are changing their longstanding marijuana practices by allowing most tobacco-free adult pot users to qualify for standard and in some cases preferred non-tobacco rates.

See also:

The effects of marijuana use on life insurance rates

Marijuana investing: Why advisors should just say no

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