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Why isn’t cannabis used by hospitals?

Currently in Arizona, hospitals do not offer cannabis as a treatment option to patients and in almost all cases, do not allow cannabis to be used by patients in their own capacity.

Two weeks ago, our editor-in-chief Mike Cassini was attacked by a homeless man’s dog outside of his apartment complex in Tempe, AZ. His femur was broken in 3 places and he was taken to the hospital for emergency surgery. As hospitals are currently following Covid-19 protocols, he was placed into quarantine until a surgical team could be assembled. Not a simple task when the majority of healthcare workers are being furloughed or asked to stay home. The nurse told us, it should be a matter of a few hours, which turned into the next day.

While Mike waited for news, he notified the nurse that he was an MMJ patient, and could he have a way of having cannabis to ease his pain and help with the anxiety of waiting for an update that seemingly was never to arrive. Not only was his request rejected, he was consistently interrogated about his ‘drug use’ by the staff and doctors. When was the last time he used cocaine, meth, etc?. You would think that a simple “I don’t use any of those drugs,” would be good enough. It’s one thing to be denied treatment recognized by the State of Arizona, but its another to be classified as a drug addict for requesting it.

Why is this?

Hospitals get their policies from the top down. Hospitals are accredited through the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services, an entity of the federal government. Hospitals that allow cannabis use would most likely be found to be in violation of federal law and the CMS, effectively losing federal funding and possibly incurring penalties.

Additionaly, as cannabis is not approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for any medical purpose, clinicians are prohibited from prescribing or providing the drug in a hospital.

Let’s assume the hospital wants to provide you with cannabis, where would they get it from? Currently, there is no officially recognized supplier of medical cannabis.

What does this mean?

Until federal law changes, hospitals, like financial institutions, have their hands tied. Can they find a way around the federal laws? Probably. Can they help influence federal law by advocating for cannabis as a valid treatment in states that have MMJ programs? Most definitely. Will hospitals play a role in any of this? Maybe, if we do our part as patients in educating our healthcare providers on our needs as a patient.

How do we change this?

It starts from the bottom up. The patient needs to effectively communicate to their healthcare providers. When it comes to medical treatment, the needs and desires of the patient are paramount and most healthcare professionals are ready to listen to what you have to say.

At the increasing demand of patients for cannabis, some hospitals have already started advocating for patients to self medicate with cannabis while admitted. But, there are many questions and concerns surrounding this. How does the hospital verify the quality, how does cannabis interact with other drugs or treatments, how does cannabis affect anesthesia.

Remember, we’re fighting an uphill battle, the healthcare workers get their instructions from above, from the very top (federal government/FDA) but you can still push forward. MMJ will prevail in the end, but we have to play our role in influencing from our position as the patient.

Joseph Cassini is a writer and designer for The Cannabis Cactus Magazine. He enjoys cooking, history, and smoking cannabis outside of the city.


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