Exploring the Conditions for a Medical Marijuana Program

For over 50 years, federal restrictions on cannabis research have thwarted rigorous studies of the plant and its possible drug development. Now, a new program could change all that.

Marijuana can be an adequate substitute for several prescription drugs, including opioids (Bridgeman & Abazia, 2017; The NCSBN Medical Marijuana Guidelines Committee, 2018). It also has been linked to increased quality of life in chronic pain patients.

Conditions for which Medical Marijuana is Approved

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved marijuana for use in two rare forms of epilepsy: Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome. Patients with these conditions can obtain medical marijuana under a prescription from an authorized practitioner.

The FDA is working with pharmaceutical companies to bring products containing cannabis-derived cannabinoids to market as a medical treatment for these disorders. FDA-approved drugs can better control symptoms, lessen the need for other medications, and offer more rapid relief than herbal or recreational marijuana.

Other conditions that can qualify for medical marijuana include HIV/AIDS; ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis); cancer; cachexia; persistent nausea that is not significantly responsive to other treatment, except for nausea related to pregnancy or cannabis-induced cyclical vomiting syndrome or cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome; fibromyalgia; multiple sclerosis or debilitating spasms associated with it; rheumatoid arthritis; PTSD; and chronic pain that degrades health and functional capability or is not adequately treated with opioid medications or other non-opioid alternatives.

Among states with medical marijuana programs like the Delaware medical marijuana program, the majority require physicians to be trained in evaluating and prescribing medicinal cannabis. These requirements ensure that a physician establishes a bona fide clinical relationship with the patient before providing a recommendation. However, these restrictions may create tension in the doctor-patient relationship if the patient desires medicinal marijuana and the physician declines to recommend it for clinical reasons or personal objections.

Medical Marijuana Treatments

Evidence shows that marijuana relieves pain and nausea, especially for cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy. It can also stimulate the appetite of HIV/AIDS patients who have lost weight and suffer from anorexia. In addition, studies show that marijuana can decrease muscle spasticity in MS patients. It has also been found to lessen tremors for people with Parkinson’s disease, and it may reduce the side effects of other medications such as Neurontin or Lyrica, which are often highly sedating.

Many older adults use medical marijuana to treat chronic headaches, fibromyalgia, and other aches and pains. Studies also suggest that it can ease the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, such as memory loss and depression. Some evidence supports the use of marijuana to manage the pain of rheumatoid arthritis, and a pharmaceutical product containing a purified form of the cannabis plant, cannabidiol (CBD), has been approved by the FDA to treat seizures in some children with Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome.

A significant concern with medical marijuana is that it can lead to recreational use, which has been linked to various health problems, including lung damage from smoking, psychological dependence, and mental illness in predisposed individuals. Until further research is completed, physicians should avoid prescribing it to their patients.

Medical Marijuana Dispensaries

Depending on your state’s regulations, medical marijuana dispensaries (medical cannabis shops) provide registered patients with a secure location to procure information and cannabis grown for treating specific ailments. They are usually regulated and taxed differently than recreational marijuana outlets so prices may vary.

The interior design of a medical dispensary is often closer to a doctor’s office than a typical storefront, and entering one typically involves showing a security guard your ID. If you are a registered patient, you must also present your medical cannabis card or other documentation as required by your state. Patients who cannot make the trip to a dispensary can designate and register caregivers to purchase cannabis on their behalf.

In addition to a wide selection of marijuana products, most dispensaries carry related accessories like vape oils, cannabis-infused drinks and food, and in-store storage items. The dispensary may sell medical and recreational marijuana and offer discounts to registered patients who show their cards at the counter.

New York state law requires that at least half of all retail marijuana licenses be given to social and economic equity applicants, including people from communities disproportionately affected by prohibition. But some licensed to sell cannabis have had trouble making ends meet due to taxes and supply issues, like a recent scandal involving a downstate dispensary selling pot with far higher levels of THC than advertised.

Medical Marijuana Laws

To participate in a medical marijuana program, New York state law requires that an individual be diagnosed with one or more of 21 qualifying conditions: cancer, HIV infection or AIDS, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Parkinson’s disease, spinal cord injury with spasticity, chronic or severe pain that degrades health and functional capacity, PTSD, hepatitis C, fibromyalgia, Crohn’s disease, epilepsy, rheumatoid arthritis, Huntington’s disease, or other neurological condition. Additionally, patients must visit a registered healthcare provider who certifies that marijuana is clinically appropriate to treat the patient’s medical condition.

Those diagnosed with the above ailments can purchase marijuana from licensed dispensaries. Medical marijuana patients may also grow up to three mature plants and six seedlings in a single home. However, the bill states that counties, towns, cities, and villages may reasonably regulate personal cultivation. Residents violating these regulations could be fined up to $200.

The bill also includes employment-specific legislation, providing both patients and employers with protections regarding the use of marijuana in the workplace. If you feel that your employer has discriminated against you due to your status as a medical marijuana patient, an experienced attorney may be able to help you. This is a complex area of the law, and an experienced advocate is essential.


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