Medical marijuana is one of the newest drug therapies that has been making waves in the medical community. While there are those who doubt its effectiveness, there are just as many other people who stand by cannabis’ claim to good health. But with all the controversy and lack of FDA (Food and Drug Administration) support, how do patients know when is too much? Is it possible for patients to overdose? If so, how dangerous is it? Is it lethal? These and many more questions plague patients nationwide as the medical marijuana debate continues.
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1. What is Medical Marijuana?
It may sound simple, but medical marijuana is exactly what you think. Doctors are recommending cannabis for the treatment of specific medical conditions. Although the federal government hasn’t legalized marijuana for anything, let alone medical treatment, some states have decided on legalization under specific criteria.
New York’s medical marijuana plan came into effect in January 2016. Like each state before it, New York looked at specific ailments and determined which ones were appropriate for treatment. The current list of qualifying conditions are:
- Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)
- Parkinson’s disease
- Multiple sclerosis (MS)
- Spinal cord injury with spasticity
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Huntington’s disease
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- Chronic pain
- Pain that degrades health and functional capability
- Alternative to opioid use
- Substance use disorder
The severe debilitating or life-threatening condition must also be accompanied by one or more of the following associated or complicating conditions:
- Cachexia or wasting syndrome
- Severe or chronic pain
- Severe nausea
- Severe or persistent muscle spasms
- Opioid use disorder
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2. Dosing Guidelines
Potential medical marijuana patients typically have a few reservations regarding this type of treatment. Some have concerns about the psychoactive properties associated with cannabis. As many practitioners will tell you, pharmaceuticals aren’t that different from marijuana. In fact, most will admit that cannabis is actually safer than many other medications that they prescribe. While most prescription medications are made from harmful chemicals with only a small amount of natural plant compounds, medical marijuana is completely natural. Additionally, patients that follow their doctor’s advice on dosing experience little if any side effects. So how do patients know how much marijuana to use?
The most straightforward answer to that question is simple. Look to your doctor’s recommendation and don’t use it any more nor more often than they directed. Most practitioners will start a patient off at a low level and build up if needed. When determining the dosage, several things must be considered, such as the degree and duration of the effects.
Although the two most popular forms of consumption, smoking, and eating, are currently prohibited, according to New York’s guidelines, patients have other options. Approved methods include transdermal patches, topicals, vaporization (vape pens), and orally by tablets, capsules, or lozenges. Each technique used works on the body differently, and the amount of time that it stays in the body will vary from form to form. These variations are also affected by how much THC the product contains. Your medical marijuana provider has been trained to evaluate which form and what dosage is proper. However, it may take a few tries to get the exact dosage that is the most effective for a specific patient.
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3. Can Patients Overdose on Medical Marijuana?
Although overdosing is possible with medical marijuana, the incidences are low when compared to other narcotics. Chances of an overdose are so rare that there has never been a death attributed to marijuana use alone. However, it is important to note that THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the psychoactive component in cannabis, can cause temporary psychosis, but this is extremely rare and typically only occurs in patients that already struggle with a psychotic condition.
Though rare, the signs of cannabis overdose can include:
- Rapid heart rate, increasing the risk of a heart attack
- Mental confusion
- Panic attacks
- Extreme paranoia
Patients should also be careful when taking other medications with medical marijuana. Some medicines can enhance the effects of cannabis or vice versa, creating a dangerous situation.
4. How to get Qualified for Medical Marijuana in New York?
Individuals who live in New York can get a medical marijuana ID card if they have one or more qualifying conditions and have been evaluated by a licensed practitioner. The qualifying practitioner will review all medical records relating to their diagnosis, including any supporting labs, x-rays, or MRIs. Once the review process has been completed, and a recommendation has been made, the practitioner will submit the necessary information to the state’s Medical Marijuana Program and issue a temporary ID card. The patient is required to pay a $50 fee to New York as well as any costs associated with consulting with the qualifying doctor. Once all fees are paid, a new ID card will be sent to the address on file. Unfortunately, these certifications will expire each year, requiring patients to make an appointment for reevaluation approximately two months before the expiration date on the medical use card.
Patients under the age of 18 must have a designated caregiver that has been approved by the state to purchase, administer, and control any cannabis products. Typically, the caregiver is a parent or legal guardian. Both the patient and caregiver will be issued an ID card.