Over the years, medical marijuana (cannabis), derived from the leaves of the Cannabis sativa plant, has been the subject of constant controversy, both in terms of its clinical use in state-licensed dispensaries and its place in public health policy has been targeted.
Medical Marijuana and Related Legal Aspects
Today, the medical use of this illicit recreational drug is being discussed again, albeit controversially, not only by clinicians and members of his P&T committee but also by the general public. This article provides an overview of the current use of medical marijuana in the United States and the implications of that use for medical professionals and his P&T board members.
References to marijuana have appeared in medical literature throughout history. In the United States, medical use of the drug was restricted in the 1970s when the Controlled Substances Act listed marijuana as a Schedule I substance with no medicinal value and high abuse potential.
Before restrictions, marijuana was prescribed for a variety of situations similar to those where 18 states (and the District of Columbia) now allow its use.
Despite legal action taken by these states, the federal government’s position on medical marijuana use remains clear. In June 2011, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) rejected a petition to move the marijuana market, reiterating that there was no scientific or medical evidence to support such a move.
As a growing number of states approve the use of marijuana for the treatment of medical conditions, practitioners will need to understand its effects on their patients. Short-term marijuana use may cause coordination disorders, impaired memory and judgment, and psychotic episodes.
Long-term use has been associated with increased cardiovascular events, addiction, mental health disorders, and respiratory disorders similar to those associated with tobacco smoking.
Willful violations of controlled substances laws can result in employee fines or imprisonment, facility closure, loss of DEA controlled substance registration and facility license, and loss of state medical care.
Employees have attempted to use the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) for legal protection, but these claims have failed. As long as marijuana is an illegal drug under federal law, its use is not protected by her ADA.
Just as the use of medical marijuana by health professionals gains public approval, regulatory contradictions and ambiguities complicate the use of the drug. A doctor’s liability to prescribe medical marijuana, unlike that of a doctor prescribing her traditional FDA-approved drug, can carry legal risks.
Pharmacists may also be asked to advise patients about medical marijuana use, per state government guidance. Because hospitals are often mandated to dispense medical marijuana, P&T committees can be embroiled in controversy.
Therefore, health care practitioners and P&T committees are wise to heed the ancient Latin cautionary principle, “buyer beware,” given the increasing availability of marijuana for medical purposes.