Can Medical Marijuana Help Your Practice Thrive?

Leigh Page


January 15, 2019

In This Article

Cannabis Use Restricted to Specific Conditions

State lists of approved conditions also hamper doctors' ability to recommend cannabis to patients. This can be frustrating for physicians when certain conditions that have responded well to cannabis treatments are not on the state list.

For example, chronic pain is the most commonly treated condition—making up 53% of all cannabis recommendations in New York, for example.[18] But chronic pain was not on the initial Illinois list, causing a great deal of frustration for doctors in the state, Liu says. That changed only in January 2018, when a judge ordered Illinois to add intractable pain as a qualifying condition. The judge held that the benefits outweighed the risks that the state brought up.

As a consequence of successful treatment for pain, New York, Illinois, and Pennsylvania allow medical marijuana to be substituted for opioids, as a way of reducing the epidemic of opioid abuse.

However, the list of the conditions for which states allow the use of cannabis does not generally follow research on what cannabis is most effective in treating. For example, 31 states list cannabis for HIV/AIDS and 30 states for cancer, which have shown less promising results, but only 19 states list cannabis for both epilepsy and chronic pain, which have shown much better results.[19]

In addition, the lists denote cannabis as a treatment for glaucoma (25 states), seizures (24 states), cachexia (23 states), Crohn disease (23 states), posttraumatic stress disorder (22 states), amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (20 states), multiple sclerosis (20 states), persistent muscle spasms (17 states), nausea (15 states), and Alzheimer disease (12 states).[19]

Medical Marijuana and Malpractice Cases

Malpractice lawsuits have not been a problem for doctors recommending medical cannabis. In 2016, 21 years after California passed the first medical marijuana law, a review of the field did not find any precedential malpractice cases.[20]

The certification process protects you. Doctors are not prescribing the substances.

"The certification process protects you," Doner says. "Doctors are not prescribing the substances. They are only saying that the patient needs them. It's the dispensary that has the liability."

The picture is different for investigations by medical boards in certain states. Hergenrather reports that there were a lot of investigations in the early years of medical cannabis in California. One doctor lost his license when he recommended cannabis for an autistic child, he says. In another case, the state medical board charged a doctor with murder when his patient's car killed someone when the patient had taken marijuana.

But as medical cannabis becomes more accepted in California and the state moved on in 2016 to legalizing recreational marijuana, things have quieted down, Hergenrather says.


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