Marijuana is currently legal for medicinal use in 21 states, plus another 8 states recreationally (1). While its benefit and legality has spurred moral and political controversy for nearly 100 years, the facts regarding cannabis remain indifferent to these quibbles.
Fact #1: Cannabis is the globally recognized scientific name for marijuana. Its three recognized strains are: Indica (meaning “from India”), Sativa (“cultivated in rows”), and Ruberalis (“wild” or “weed”). There are of course hybrids, primarily from the first two strains, each with distinct characteristics.
Fact #2: An Arizona licensed physician, with a DEA number, may recommend medical marijuana for the following conditions: Acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Crohn’s disease, Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), Agitation of Alzheimer’s disease, Cancer, Glaucoma, Hepatitis C, or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Further qualifications include any condition or treatment of a condition that causes: Cachexia or wasting syndrome, Severe and chronic pain, Severe nausea, Seizures, Severe or persistent muscle spasms, including those characteristic of multiple sclerosis.
Fact #3: A recommendation from a licensed physician in Arizona is called a “physician certification”. It is not a prescription. Cannabis cannot be prescribed because it is a Schedule 1 Drug under Federal law.
Fact #4: Because cannabis cannot be prescribed, its users are still subject to the regulations of their employers and the current interpretation of local law. For example, a 2015 Arizona Supreme Court ruling granted cardholders an “affirmative defense” option by which they can attempt to “prove” in court that they were not impaired by metabolites found in their system.
Fact #5: Employers and legal institutions may administer drug tests regardless of card-holder status. Urine and blood tests both measure non-psychoactive metabolites, which is not particularly useful for determining “impairment” because these can be detected for up to a week or more. Long-term use will show higher levels due to the accumulation of metabolites caused by this naturally slow elimination process. Blood tests are much more sensitive, even detecting the psychoactive component of cannabis called THC. Many factors affect the levels of metabolites found in test results, including the form of cannabis consumed, how recently it was consumed, the relative health and hydration of the person, and even their percent body fat. (2)
Fact #6: If you feel that cannabis may be helpful for one of the conditions listed above, please note that physicians are required to review the last 12 months of all pertinent medical records, plus give you a physical exam. Once certified, your application may take up to a full month to be approved by the Arizona Department of Health. Thus, it is important to continue working with your doctor to treat your condition.
In the next article, we will discuss in more detail some of the conditions for which cannabis has been found beneficial through rigorous scientific research. If you have further questions, please call the office to make an appointment with any of our physicians who are all highly trained in the medical uses of cannabis.
1) http://www.governing.com/gov-data/state-marijuana-laws-map-medical-recreational.html. Retrieved 1/16/17.
2) http://www.canorml.org/healthfacts/drugtestguide/drugtestdetection.html. Retrieved 1/16/17.