According to the Des Moines Register, Iowa has a new medical marijuana program rolling out on December 1st, but many doctors in the state have reservations about enrolling patients.
Iowa’s Medical Marijuana Program
The state’s shiny new medical weed program is based on an already popular existing program in Minnesota. However, unlike Minnesota, Iowa’s laws exclude registered nurses and physician assistants from certifying patients for the program.
To qualify, patients must have at least one of the conditions outlined in the state’s new guidelines – including cancer, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, ALS, or chronic pain conditions.
Fewer than 5% of Iowa’s practicing physicians have certified patients for the new program, indicating a slower start than many medical marijuana advocates had hoped for. Fewer than 600 patients have been certified thus far.
Opposition to the Program
Much of the opposition in the state stems from marijuana’s status on the federal level as an illegal controlled substance.
The Iowa Medical Society, a professional organization for doctors in Iowa, called the new policy dangerous and unsustainable. The group cautioned that physicians participating in the program might be subject to legal or insurance problems in the future.
Others are concerned with the lack of empirical evidence behind medical marijuana. Steven Adelman, a neurologist at the Mercy Medical Center, said more scientific proof of the effectiveness of medical cannabis would make physicians more comfortable recommending it to patients.
Richard Deming, the director of Mercy Medical Center’s cancer center, was critical of the program despite having certified some of his patients for it. He noted that other medications aren’t given to patients until standard doses are determined, and are proven to be safe and effective. He does agree that the federal government should relax legality for research purposes, so the effectiveness of marijuana as a medical treatment may be more accurately determined.
Hospitals with the Department of Veterans Affairs do not permit their staff to participate in state marijuana programs, due to the agency’s federal status.
The Program’s Supporters
Adley Cooper is three years old, and has epilepsy. She’s on a number of medications to control her seizures, and some of them come with serious side effects: irritability, insomnia, and a decrease in appetite.
Heather Cooper, Adley’s mom, says it’s because of these medications her daughter weighs only 24 pounds at almost four years old. Heather has tried various over-the-counter CBD oils (that’s Cannabidiol oil – a non-narcotic marijuana extract that is different from THC, the chemical present in the plant that gets users high) to treat Adley after hearing some success stories, but they had little effect.
When Heather tried to get Adley’s neurologist to certify her daughter for the state’s new program, she was refused. The neurologist refused to sign a form confirming that the girl had epilepsy.
The state health department reported that 42% of the roughly 600 patients using the medical marijuana program use cannabis to treat chronic pain. 14% reported using it to treat seizures, including those related to epilepsy like Adley’s. 13% said they use it when treating their ALS.
Lucas Nelson, the general manager of MedPharm, spent $10 million to build the state’s first cannabis growing and processing plant. He says he hopes doctors will certify more patients as they become more familiar with the policy. If not, he admits that the lack of willing participating physicians could pose a serious problem for the industry.
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