An observational study of pain severity, cannabis use, and benefit expenditures in work disability
Objective: This study pools two cohorts of workers in Ontario interviewed 18 months following a disabling work-related injury to estimate the association between pain severity, cannabis use, and disability benefit expenditures. Methods: Among 1650 workers, disability benefit expenditures obtained from administrative records were combined with self-reported measures of pain symptoms and cannabis use. Disability benefit expenditures comprised wage replacement benefits and expenditures on healthcare services. Results: Past-year cannabis use was reported by 31% of participants, with approximately one third of cannabis use attributed to the treatment of conditions arising from the work-related injury. Condition-related cannabis use was elevated among the 34% of participants reporting severe pain symptoms. In regression models adjusted for age, sex, nature of injury, opioid prescription, and pre-injury chronic conditions, participants reporting condition-related cannabis use had equivalent wage replacement benefit expenditures (ß = 0.254, ns) and higher healthcare benefit expenditures (ß = 0.433, p = 0.012) compared to participants who did not use cannabis. Participants reporting cannabis use unrelated to conditions arising from their work-related injury had lower wage replacement benefit expenditures (ß = - 0.309, p = 0.002) and equivalent healthcare benefit expenditures (ß = - 0.251, ns) compared to participants not using cannabis. Conclusion: This novel study of workers' compensation claimants interviewed at 18 months post-injury did not observe a substantial relationship between cannabis use and disability benefit expenditures, suggesting that neither harm nor significant benefit is associated with cannabis use. These findings contribute to understanding the potential benefits and risks associated with cannabis use in settings that have legalized cannabis use.