Considering Cannabis for Patients with Disabilities

Many patients with disabilities have reported benefits from cannabis in various ways. Despite mounting scientific evidence of success in helping treat disabilities, many disabled individuals and their caregivers don’t consider trying cannabis as part of the treatment plan. With cannabis still banned at the federal level, disabled persons considering cannabis to aid in their treatment should carefully weigh the risks versus benefits.


How Can Cannabis Help with Disabilities?

Scientific research has ramped up in the area of medicine and disability in recent years, to some rather eye-opening results:

  • In The Elderly: A 2019 medical marijuana study in the journal Neurology examined 200 elderly patients who had epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, and other disabling conditions. The patients were observed in a neurologic outpatient setting within the DENT Neurologic Institute in Buffalo, New York. 

In the study, patients reported mild to moderate improvements including better sleep, diminished pain, and reduced anxiety. Additionally, a third of the study’s participants were able to decrease use of prescription opioids with the replacement of medical marijuana. The study’s senior researcher Dr. Laszlo Mechtler noted, “In the midst of an opioid epidemic in this country with 115 people dying every day, anything that can decrease the potential for opiate use is a win-win situation. Nobody overdoses on medical marijuana.”


  • In Children: A 2020 study looked at cannabidiol (CBD), a type of medicinal cannabis. Findings showed that CBD may reduce severe behavioral problems in children and adolescents with intellectual disabilities. The pilot study published in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology  noted a clinically significant change in the children’s irritability, aggression, self-injury, and yelling. 


  • In Adults: Adults with various disabilities have reported in numerous studies that their symptoms improved with medical cannabis. Abilities.com, a resource for the disability community, notes: “There is a legitimate scientific rationale for the use of cannabis as a treatment for a myriad of disorders. Unfortunately, the demonization of this plant has created an atmosphere of fear and fallacious stigmatization against its medicinal use.”


The U.S. government’s own patent on cannabinoids states: “Cannabinoids are found to have particular application as neuroprotectants, for example in limiting neurological damage following ischemic insults, such as stroke and trauma, or in the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and HIV dementia.”


Legal Considerations for Disabled Patients

While scientific evidence continues to support cannabis’s potential benefits for people with disabilities, the law can be a huge roadblock to accessing and utilizing it for many disabled patients. These are a few considerations for disabled individuals to keep in mind: 

  • Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI): Although specific regulations regarding how the Social Security Administration (SSA) will act regarding those who file SSDI claims and use cannabis will vary, the general rule is that the SSA can deny benefits to an applicant who “abuses illegal drugs or alcohol”, which, to some judges, could be interpreted to include patients who use medical marijuana as part of their state’s medical cannabis program. 
  • Employment: The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for qualified workers with disabilities. However, the act does not protect illegal drug use, though it does afford some protections for recovering addicts. Marijuana is an illegal drug under federal law, with no exceptions for medicinal use, so its use is not protected under the ADA. While the ADA does not protect illegal drug use nor medical marijuana use, this is not always the case under state laws. Any disabled person using medical cannabis considering filing a claim for SSDI benefits should speak with a Social Security disability attorney. 
  • Housing: People with disabilities who utilize public resources for their housing should consider whether their cannabis use might risk their living situations. Current federal laws prohibit anyone living in public housing from using controlled substances, and allow landlords to evict anyone who breaks those laws. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) also prohibits the admission of users of marijuana to HUD-assisted housing, including those who use medical marijuana.


Weighing Risks Versus Benefits

For many disabled individuals, the benefits to using cannabis as part of their treatment plan outweigh the risks they may encounter in other areas of their life. Research for cannabis’s effectiveness for many diseases that lead to disability is still ongoing, with fascinating new developments being discovered every day. 

One common finding among many studies is that although cannabis may not treat the main symptoms of a disability, it improves patient quality of life. Although the disease itself does not get better from using cannabis, a disabled person may be able to cope with daily life more easily when they use cannabis.


To learn more about whether medical marijuana might aid in treating your disability or associated symptoms, make an appointment with Duber Medical today.



Author: Gabrielle Dion Visca

Gabrielle has been writing and editing professionally for the medical and wellness industries for more than 20 years. She’s held positions with The Journal of Pediatrics, Livestrong, The Cincinnati Enquirer, and Patient Pop. She currently writes articles about medical marijuana for Duber Medical, and is the founder of the Ohio cannabis journalism non-profit, MedicateOH.

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