Medical Board Expectations for Physicians Recommending Marijuana

 In Medical Marijuana

Heightened public interest in marijuana and marijuana-infused products for medicinal and recreational purposes led the nation’s state medical and osteopathic boards recently to issue recommendations about marijuana in patient care and a cautionary note advising actively licensed physicians to abstain from using marijuana while practicing medicine.1 This is the first time that the dispensing or use of products derived from the Cannabis sativa plant have been highlighted in a policy recommendation of the Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB), whose members include 70 state and territorial medical licensing boards of the United States. We examine the dilemma of physicians caught between increasingly permissive local statutes and prohibitive federal regulations and summarize 10 recommendations about marijuana for patient care from the agencies authorized by statute to protect the health and welfare of the public through the licensure and discipline of physicians and other health care professionals.

During the past 2 decades, attitudes and laws have become more tolerant toward marijuana, with the prevalence of adults reportedly using the substance increasing from 4.1% in 2001 to 9.5% in 2013.2 Although there is little evidence for the efficacy of marijuana in treating certain medical conditions, marijuana has been variously suggested for alleviating some or all symptoms of a range of debilitating medical conditions, including but not limited to certain types of cancer, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer disease, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), epilepsy, Crohn disease, and glaucoma.3

The “prescribing” of marijuana, however, remains illegal under federal law, where it is classified as a Schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, meaning that the federal government considers marijuana a substance with a high potential for dependency or addiction, with no accepted medical use in treatment. Therefore, under federal law, marijuana cannot be knowingly or intentionally distributed, dispensed, or possessed, and an individual who aids and abets another in violating federal law or engages in a conspiracy to purchase, cultivate, or possess marijuana may be punished to the same extent as the individual who commits the crime.

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