The term medical marijuana can be confusing. On the surface, individuals may hear “marijuana“ and question how this can be used in a medical setting due to its status as a schedule 1 drug. The fact is, despite the perception of how marijuana affects an individual, clinically, it is no more addictive than alcohol or tobacco. In fact, many individuals believe that the medicinal properties of this plant are greater than many other traditional medications.
Patients who have severe or debilitating conditions that don’t respond well to conventional treatment often look to cannabis as an alternative method. In recent years, the push to include it for medical use has prompted the legalization of marijuana by more than two dozen states with several more currently debating the issue. Marijuana as a medical treatment has even produced an FDA-approved medication that contains cannabinoid chemicals in pill form even though the federal government doesn’t agree that there is a therapeutic use for cannabis.
How to be approved for medical marijuana?
In 1996, California became the first state to pass a Compassionate Use Act paving the way for countless individuals to have access to one of the most beneficial and versatile drugs in modern history. Under the new law, individuals who were diagnosed with some of the worst medical conditions could use marijuana purchased from one of the newly created dispensaries located throughout the state as treatment.
Since its implementation, California has expanded the qualifications to include other conditions making the current list of approved ailments to include the following:
- Wasting syndrome
- Chronic pain
- persistent muscle spasms (e.g., spasms associated with multiple sclerosis)
- severe nausea
- any other chronic or persistent medical symptom that either substantially limits a person’s ability to conduct one or more major life activities as defined in the American’s with Disabilities Act, or if not alleviated, may cause serious harm to the person’s safety, physical, or mental health.
To be approved for medical marijuana, patients must be evaluated by a licensed medical practitioner. Traditionally, patients are seen at a provider’s office but with the rise in telemedicine technology, virtual visits are now allowed.
Once the provider has reviewed a patient’s supporting documentation for a covered diagnosis and has determined that they would benefit from medical marijuana, a recommendation can be made and submitted to the state’s Health Department who will then issue a medical use card. Until the card arrives, patients are issued a temporary card that will allow them to purchase products from their local dispensary.
In 2016, California took the debate for marijuana use one step further with the legalization of recreational cannabis. Despite this fact, patients who are covered under the medical use laws are encouraged to renew their certifications yearly for the following benefits:
- Without the medical use card, patients may have difficulty obtaining products.
- Medical marijuana patients can choose to use at the age of 18, whereas recreational use begins at 21.
- Access to better products at dispensaries as opposed to growing your own or purchasing marijuana on the streets.
- Recreational users have a greater limit placed on the number of plants they are allowed to grow and the amount of cannabis they can possess as opposed to those with a medical marijuana card.
- Medical use patients are charged at a lower tax rate than recreational users.
Is medical marijuana right for me?
Although marijuana has been proven to be an effective treatment for some patients, it is not necessarily the best treatment for everyone. Like any medication, marijuana has benefits and risks that must be taken into consideration. While many individuals who request a medical use card have previously used cannabis, not all have so the effects on each person can vary. Additionally, patients who are prescribed medications for conditions other than a qualifying ailment should determine if cannabis will interfere with their effectiveness.
To be sure your choice of medical cannabis treatment is right for you; patients are encouraged to discuss their concerns with a qualified medical practitioner that is knowledgeable in marijuana treatment. While not every medical condition can be appropriately controlled with cannabis, many can. As the demand for research grows, scientists are almost sure to determine other conditions that can benefit from medical marijuana as well.
To date, one cannabis containing medication has been approved by the FDA to treat epilepsy, Epidolex. With its approval, this highly specialized drug has broken the glass ceiling in medical marijuana research.