Smoke and Mirrors Cloud Medical Marijuana Debate

The whiff of nationwide legalization of medical marijuana is again in the air, no matter that it already has made a complete mockery of almost everyone in the field of medicine associated with it. The approval process in the 20 states and the District of Columbia that currently offers medical marijuana would be laughable if it also wasn't so dangerous. How my profession of medicine struck a Faustian bargain by allowing anyone with a checkbook to get a "recommendation letter" for marijuana is beyond me, but this charade cannot be allowed to go on any longer.

The sad reality is that medical marijuana cards aren't worth the paper they're printed on and to be crystal clear, anyone with any symptom can go to a "marijuana doctor" and can get what is actually called a "recommendation letter" that explains how the individual in question will medically benefit from marijuana. The patient takes the ersatz prescription to a dispensary and is now able to procure a host of mind-altering products -- none of which have actually been "prescribed" in a traditional sense.

Let's be clear, here. The recommendation letter is not an actual prescription where, for instance, a patient is directed to take 500 mg of a particular medication three times a day for a month. The "medication" in question isn't directed and the patient can use whatever they want whenever they want depending upon their own taste. Can you imagine if a physician prescribed other mind-altering drugs, like Vicodin or Oxycodone, in this way?

A recent study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry showed that the potency of today's marijuana is very high, while the content of cannabidiol, which has a natural antipsychotic effect, has been purposely reduced by marijuana growers to achieve greater potency. The result is an increasing incidence of psychotic spectrum disorder among users. There is no doubt that marijuana has properties of alleviating certain symptoms such as nausea, pressure, pain, while stimulating appetite; however, if the natural safeguards built into marijuana's chemistry are being removed, we are in for a whole new series of problems as marijuana marches toward public acceptance and legalization. The equivalent is imagining a world where all the alcohol legally distributed had the potency of moonshine.

If you seek a doctor's care for an ailment, he normally would ask for your complete health history, perhaps even a complete physical exam and perform diagnostic tests of varying degrees before prescribing a structured medication regimen with a systematic follow-up. That's standard medical procedure. In the case of marijuana, there is no standard medical procedure, no oversight, no special training for the physicians and no guidelines. Calling it "medical marijuana" is a disgrace for the entire medical community and all those perpetuating the misleading notion that this process is somehow medically sound.

Given the choice between today's system of dispensing medical marijuana and legalization, I would choose legalization, heavily tax the process and utilize the tax dollars to properly and effectively enforce the law, and to educate the public about the harsh realities associated with marijuana. There is much to educate the public -- particularly young people -- about the dangers of smoking today's psychotropic marijuana. For example, a recent Northwestern Medicine study reported that teenagers who were regular marijuana users had:

  • abnormal changes in brain structures related to working memory
  • performed poorly on memory tasks (a predictor of poor academic performance and everyday functioning)
  • changes in brain structure associated with having schizophrenia

Remember, you can get a marijuana card for as little as $35 dollars, making it affordable to virtually anyone including kids.

It's time now to change the flawed medical marijuana system by insisting that standard medical procedures be followed in the dispensing of the drug. Let's save our children from the dangers of "marijuana doctors" before all concerns for safety go up in smoke.