Advisors Blog

Getting Life Coverage for Marijuana Users

Published on August 09, 2017


Marijuana (or cannabis sativa) is a highly regulated, banned, illegal plant substance in most parts of the world, but also a highly sought, legal therapeutic agent in others.  There has been a dramatic shift in the past decade, to the legalization and benefit of marijuana usage – both recreational and medical. As of 2017, 26 states and the District of Columbia currently have laws legalizing marijuana in some form. Seven states have even passed legislation allowing cultivation and utilization of marijuana for recreational use, but are still subject to rather stringent regulations. As perceptions and laws change, carriers have reassessed how these cases are rated. Marijuana users who want to purchase life insurance can do so, but will usually come under greater scrutiny from carriers, and will have to undergo more rigorous medical tests in order to determine their eligibility.

The federal government, specifically the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), organizes drugs into different categories based on the risk of abuse or harm to users. The classification ranges from Schedule I (highest risk) to Schedule V (lowest risk). The DEA classifies marijuana as a Schedule I drug, while drugs such as oxycodone and cocaine fall under the Schedule II classification. Due to marijuana being classified as a Schedule I substance, marijuana has not undergone intensive testing, and research on the drug as a therapeutic treatment falls far short of the standards usually mandated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA.)

Side Effects and Medical Conditions That Qualify for Medical Marijuana

Existing research indicates that marijuana is by far the most extensively used non-pharmaceutical controlled substance, with perhaps usage by 5% or more of the adult global population, and maybe up to 10% of the adult U.S. population. There are declarations from many people of the laudable benefits of marijuana in alleviating the symptoms associated with a large multitude of medical conditions. Conversely, there are also a large number of the population who decry the adverse side effects of this substance in exacerbating those very same conditions. In other words, experiences and perceptions on usage and benefits often vary widely. Short-term side effects might include such things as distorted perception, loss of coordination and motor skills, increased heart rate, increased anxiety and panic attacks, difficulty in thinking and problem solving, and problems with memory and learning.  Long-term side effects might include chronic respiratory problems, addiction, increased risk of psychoses (severe mental disorders), increased risks of some cancers, and increased risks of heart problems. 

Nonetheless, there appears to be more unanimous evidence on the value of this substance in addressing chronic pain management, anxiety, and sleep disorders. A large number of prescriptions or authorizations for medical marijuana are for chronic musculoskeletal, spinal, post-surgical, headache, and other persistent pains. In fact, many jurisdictions have authorized the usage of marijuana for these eight medical conditions: (1)  cancer, (2)  glaucoma, (3)  AIDS and HIV, (4)  muscle spasms, (5)  seizures, (6)  severe pain, (7)  severe nausea, and (8) wasting syndrome  (dramatic irreversible weight loss and muscle atrophy).

Evaluating Marijuana Users for Life Insurance 

Both cannabis leaves (plus cannabis flowers, seeds, and stems) and tobacco leaves have many inherent compounds which are considered detrimental to human health. Smoking marijuana presents exposure to some of the same cancer-causing chemicals which emanate from smoking tobacco. Many carriers consider smoking marijuana as presenting many of the same risks associated with smoking tobacco. Consequently, many companies assess cannabis users with a “tobacco” rate even if they do not consume any form of tobacco.

In contrast, vaporizing cannabis usually heats to a temperature high enough to extract cannabinoids such as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), but the temperatures are low enough to preclude the release of harmful toxins that are otherwise released during smoking. As a result, non-combustible inhalation (vapors), and consumption in such forms as edibles and tinctures, largely avoids the harmful toxins and by-products associated with smoking the substance. Again, for this reason, some companies assess “non-smoking” of cannabis more favorably than smoking it. 

Companies often vary significantly on how they underwrite and assess marijuana usage. At GBS, we seek to direct you to those companies which classify marijuana usage more favorably than others. A primary objective is to find a company that will allow a “non-tobacco” premium. Obviously, this can notably reduce the cost of insurance coverage. Beyond that, another objective is to find the most favorable risk classification for the client’s overall medical history. This would include those medical conditions for which a prescription for marijuana, if applicable, might have been granted.

The following information would be helpful in evaluating a client:

  • What was the initial year of marijuana usage?
  • What was, or is, the frequency of usage (daily, number of times weekly, and number of times monthly)?  
  • What was, or is, the quantity of usage per frequency (grams, number of joints or blunts or applications, ounces of beverages)?  
  • What were or are the modes of utilization (smoke, vapor, ingestion, others)?
  • What is the reason for a medical prescription for marijuana, if applicable?
  • Which doctor or facility has issued an authorization for the prescription, if applicable? 
  • Have there ever been any legal repercussions associated with usage?
  • Has there ever been any treatment, or recommended treatment, for any type of substance misuse?



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