For many years the effects of some of the most horrific diseases were believed to be lessened by marijuana use. Without the ability to adequately test it affects, the medical community has been unable to offer credible evidence that would either approve or disapprove that theory. In recent years, a push to expand the use of medical marijuana for specific life-threatening or chronic conditions has been met with opposition and support from the population as a whole. While many states have not changed their laws to include cannabis treatment, New York is among the almost two dozen that have taken steps to allow its controlled use.
What is medical marijuana?
Cannabis, also called marijuana, is a naturally occurring plant that is processed and consumed for its psychoactive or mind-altering properties. While marijuana and human use has been around for approximately 6,000 years, the common perception has dramatically changed since it was first discovered. Once hailed as a sacred part of many religious ceremonies, marijuana use can be traced back to many different religious groups and in multiple regions around the world.
In modern times, cannabis’ legal status declined rapidly beginning in the early 19th century due to its psychoactive properties. As governments around the globe started criminalizing its use, those who enjoyed marijuana consumption were driven underground.
In recent years, cannabis consumers and medical professionals have championed its legalization. Enthusiasts have been very vocal about their experiences and the benefits they have personally witnessed when used following the diagnosis of certain diseases. While credible scientific evidence has been hard to come by due to its illegalization, individuals have described the positive effects in great detail. Possibly one of the most significant benefits attributed to cannabis is its ability to ease pain and increase appetite. Specifically, virtually all who have consumed marijuana while undergoing treatment for cancer have reported these positive side effects.
There are more than 400 different chemical compounds that can be found in cannabis. While many of these compounds are not fully understood, THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (Cannabidiol) have been studied the most. THC is the portion that is responsible for the mind-altering effects of this drug while CBD has counteracting properties.
While it has long been determined that pain comes in several different forms scientists believe that THC and CBD can be used to target specific types of pain. Inflammation and neuropathic pain are thought to be better treated by CBD while THC excels in treating cramp-related pain and spasticity (a condition in which specific muscle are contracted continuously). Unfortunately, high doses of THC can sometimes exacerbate pain symptoms so dosing should be minimal and monitored for effectiveness. Due to CBD’s non-psychoactive properties, it is most often used in natural remedies and dietary supplements. Because of it’s competing effects, some experts believe that a combination of THC and CBD is the best way to treat chronic or debilitating pain.
Why do I need a medical marijuana card?
Even though some states have decided to legalize cannabis for medical purposes, and in some cases recreational use, most require that individuals meet specific criteria before being able to possess this drug legally. In 2014 New York, under the Compassionate Care Act (CCA), legalized marijuana for medical purposes only. The Act allows individuals who are suffering from specific diseases or conditions to purchase, transport and consume marijuana legally.
Currently, the laws do not let individuals smoke or use edible products containing marijuana. Vaporization, oral, topical and capsular forms are the only methods approved at this time. Although the certification process may be one of the strictest in the nation, it is designed to ensure that only qualified individuals have legal access to substances that are classified still as Schedule 1 drugs under federal law.
When the CCA was implemented, there was a small list of diseases that were covered. Since that time, the Act has been amended to include others. As the Commissioner and the New York Department of Health continue to review and update the requirements, additional ailments may be added. The most recent addition came about in 2018. Due to the epidemic proportions of the opioid crisis, the state added two new conditions. Any ailment that can be prescribed an opioid or those receiving treatment for addiction to opioids can be approved for medical marijuana treatment if the prescribing provider agrees that would be the best course of treatment.
The current list of covered diseases are as follows: ALS, Cancer, Chronic Pain, Spasticity, Epilepsy, Huntington’s Disease, Inflammatory Bowel Disease, Multiple sclerosis, Neuropathy, Parkinson’s disease, HIV/AIDS and PTSD as well as those added in 2018 that deal with opioids.
Patients must also have one of the following associated or complicating conditions to be covered under the CCA: Cachexia, Seizures, severe or chronic pain, severe nausea, and severe or persistent muscle spasms. In the future, other conditions may also be included as well; therefore this list should not be considered complete.
Marijuana Doctors in New York
While many patients may feel that the most stringent restrictions have been placed on them, providers must be approved as well. After completing a certification course and licensure has been obtained, providers are required to report all patient certification to the NY Department of Health and certify that medical cannabis usage is consistent with the specified legal limits. Additionally, medical marijuana providers can not certify themselves as patients.
New York currently only certifies providers who are licensed to practice medicine in their state. These providers can be physicians, physician’s assistants, or nurse practitioners. As with the patients, providers are held accountable for their adherence to the laws as outlined in the CCA. Failure to comply will result in termination from the program and potential ethics and legal charges.