New York legalized medical marijuana in 2014 with Senate Bill S7923, and it was implemented in January 2016. Since that time, thousands have been helped by this controversial and misunderstood plant. While many people believe that individuals should have the right to choose if they want to use this product, others push for stiffer fines and penalties for using something that has been proven less harmful than tobacco or alcohol. While the debate rages on, legislators made a landmark decision to put the lives and well being of chronic or critically ill patients above that of marijuana naysayers.
Under New York’s Compassionate Use Act, individuals who have been diagnosed with one or more debilitating or life-threatening conditions can legally purchase a 30-day supply of cannabis once qualified by a licensed marijuana doctor.
What is medical marijuana?
Medical marijuana is an approved treatment for debilitating or life-threating conditions using cannabis as the source for medication. In pro-marijuana states, licensed dispensaries have countless options for consumption and several different strains that are effective in treating a variety of conditions. To determine the best option, most patients talk to their practitioners and local “bud-tenders” who work at the dispensaries.
Requirements under New York’s MMJ laws
Although other states may include additional conditions under their approved lists, New York legislators felt that only certain diseases or illnesses warranted coverage at the time of drafting. Since that time, in working with medical professionals, the list was expanded to cover issues associated with opioids. While this list is by no means complete in the eyes of many, the designers left lawmakers with the ability to add other conditions later on. Under the current directory, the following conditions are covered:
- 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 as an alternative to opioid use or substance use disorder
The severe or 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
Additionally, under the current rules, patients are limited to the type of marijuana they are allowed to use.
Despite the popularity of smoking and eating cannabis products, joints, bongs, and edibles are prohibited. At present, the approved methods of consumption as follows:
- Capsules, tablets, lozenges
- Transdermal patches
Is medical marijuana safe?
Although marijuana is a psychoactive drug, researchers believe that it is safer to use than tobacco and alcohol when consumed as the recommending physician describes. While there have never been any deaths reported from using cannabis alone, individuals who mix this medication with other drugs should be concerned about the dangers of contra-indications.
Additionally, individuals who use medical marijuana should only do so in the safety of their own homes and not when they are driving or using any heavy equipment. Regardless of its legal status, marijuana can impair a person’s judgment and reaction time, making certain activities unadvisable. If a person who is under the influence of marijuana decides to drive, law enforcement officials will issue and citation and potentially arrest someone who causes an accident while using. Great care and concern should always be taken by anyone using this or any other medication.
Marijuana and surgery
Although cannabis is safe and effective to use as a medication, patients who are anticipating surgery do need to be concerned. Deciding whether marijuana is safe before surgery isn’t exactly a yes or no decision; it’s more complicated than that. Depending on the method of consumption, cannabis use before surgery can cause several different complications. While some people are tempted to use it to relax or help reduce stress, most doctors and anesthesiologists don’t recommend it.
Cannabis can cause vasodilation, a process where the blood vessels in the body relax, making the heart rate increase as the blood pressure falls. Vasodilation will change the way the body responds to anesthesia.
Because of the potential for complications, patients should have an honest conversation with the anesthesiologist. They should tell precisely how much and how often they use marijuana and the method of consumption. It is also essential to let them know when they last used. The anesthesiologist understands how marijuana affects the body and will be prepared if you need more anesthetic than what is considered normal. Additionally, the anesthesiologist needs to be prepared for any airway issues that are common with those who smoke or use a vaporizer.
Unfortunately, individuals who smoke or vaporize marijuana have an increased recovery time just like those who smoke cigarettes or cigars. Some require the use of a ventilator long-term unless they stop smoking or vaping for at least a month before the procedure.
Another downside to inhaled marijuana use after surgery is the time it takes for wounds to heal and the potential for scarring from the incisions. Inhaled varieties decrease the amount of oxygen available to the tissues and skin around the incision. Not only does this slow the recovery, but it also increases the risk of infection.
Although most of the information available regarding marijuana and surgery refers only to the inhaled varieties, there isn’t enough information to definitively state how other forms such as edibles or topicals can affect the procedure. As with any drug, regardless of how you use it, individuals are encouraged to have an open and honest discussion with the surgeon and anesthesiologist. Because most other forms only affect the body for a few hours after the last use, many providers will only ask that patient refrain from using their medical marijuana less than six hours before a procedure.
Individuals who live in New York and are scheduled to have a surgical procedure should discuss all medications with their surgical team. While it is doubtful marijuana use will prevent you from having surgery, it may change how the surgical team prepares. Remember, safety is always the biggest concern, give yourself the best possible scenario, and discuss this as well as other medications that you may take.
If you do not yet have your medical marijuana card in New York, you can begin an application here, or contact us if you have any questions. If you do have your recommendation, you can find a map of New York dispensaries here.