Healthcare News & Insights

Medical marijuana is….like….complicated

In states that allow the use of medical marijuana, there are new questions about how well some doctors and pharmacies make sure that only patients with serious medical issues get  prescriptions.

A recent story in the L.A. Times highlighted a model-turned-doctor who closed her family practice to focus on a more profitable niche. The practice now exists almost wholly as a place to get marijuana “recommendations,” which are then filled at local dispensaries. The practice also provides some other services, including Botox and a weight loss program (no word on whether it addresses weight gain from the munchies).

Did we mention the Caribbean-trained doctor in question, Sona Patel, bills herself as “Dr. 420” and uses her old modeling photos in her ads?

To be fair, Dr. Patel says she only recommends marijuana for patients with chronic diseases who have not seen improvement in six months or more under conventional treatment. She also claims to turn away two to five patients a day who don’t have a condition suitable for treatment with marijuana.

She concedes that moving from a traditional family practice to her current roster of services is much more profitable. But she says her main motivation was seeing patients with chronic diseases like diabetes get little to no relief from prescription drugs while often suffering serious side effects.

Regardless of motivation, Dr. Patel has plenty of company as a mostly-pot-based practice — there are several hundred in California alone. And there are an increasing number of claims that some of these practitioners don’t take the maximum care to ensure only patients with serious need get access to a controlled substance that has real street value.

Who watches the watchers?

There isn’t much downside to being a liberal dispenser of marijuana prescriptions. Despite the proliferation of pot dispensaries and marijuana-specialty practices, since 1996, there have been only 81 complaints against “pot docs” according to the Medical Board of California. (Then again, patients abusing the system probably feel too good to complain about much.)

Subsequent investigations of those complaints resulted in disciplinary action against only 10 physicians.

That concerns both folks who think it’s a bad idea to allow medical marijuana use as well as more traditional doctors who believe pot has a place in the pharmacy — when properly supervised.

Should medical marijuana use be more tightly controlled? Or does that simply make a useful pharmaceutical harder to get in the hands of patients who need it? And do practices that play up the recreational aspects of marijuana help remove a stigma, or are they just updated Dr. Feelgoods?

Share your thoughts in the comments.

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  1. I have glacoma ad well as diabetes, my eye Dr recommended that I try medical marijuana, it has been lowering the pressure in both eyes and improving my vision. I only smoke two puff of it before going to bed. I am a Christian and never thought I would use this, but it is different when you are the one going blind and they tell you there might be hope.

  2. I believe medical marijuana could be very benificial for certain people with life threatening terminol illnesses. Unfortunatly it is also a very addictive drug and I believe doctors have to be very carefull about who they are giving it to. People with that addiction will do whatever it takes to get the drug and they don’t care who they hurt or what they lose along the way.

  3. Duane Tamura says:

    Here’s an example of how California Cancer works. We have a “settlement” in which many Californians live in, called Sun Valley. Their influence in local government actually got a POT initiative passed on a County-wide basis. The Sheriff’s department won’t recognize it because it still illegal in the State of Idaho. But that’s how these things “bleed” over into other communities. Money creates a sense of entitlement and then leads to influence and when enough “like-minded people focus on one issue, it can lead to change no matter if its better or worse. It’s so bad that the Worker Bee people have to commute over 20 miles to work in Sun Valley because there is no affordable housing there. The rich want to be waited on hand and foot but don’t want “those people” living in close proximity to them. Everytime an development is proposed, it never makes it past planning and zoning or if it does get to the building permit stage it is not approved. This is not to say rich people don’t have good values and principles, many do. But the ones that don’t are pushing society towards moral decay.

  4. Chris,
    Wow I found your comment to be very interesting, I did extensive research before allowing my Dr to put me on the medical marijuana. I have worked with recovery centers for the past 12 years due to my line of work, at no one time have we have someone come who lost everything or who had killed because they needed their fix for marijuana, I have been taking it for about 3 months now and their are nights that I do not take it just because I don’t like the way it makes my throat feel, I dont think I have ever felt like I had to have it, much less kill or rob for it. Now let take a moment to talk about Vicodin, Oxycotton, and Alcohol which is legal and accepted I would have to say that we do see people coming in to recover for, I really wish and ask that people please do their homework then start working on creating laws. this is a good article about addiction.
    Once the drug makers get to put patents on medication the patents will stay in place for a long time, that is why I pay 300 dollars a month for eye-drops because their is a patents on them, this makes is so no one can make a generic yet.. P.s this is my cost after my insurance.
    All is well, just make sure it is not you having the medical problems.

  5. Micheal, I agree with what you said about the other drugs but I have seen pot cause people to lose eveything. Maybe they did not kill for it but they certainly did rob and for some individuals it leads to other things. I have lived through this and I do know alittle about addiction. Some things that you will never read in any article.

  6. My mother fought a very long hard battle with ovarian cancer, she grew marijuana for use during chemotherapy. There was always a concern among her family and friends that the legal battle if caught would be stressful and devastating to her already fragile health. She would joke that would be dead long before it went to trial. I was diagnosis with stage 2 breast cancer last year. It was a huge relief to me that medical marijuana was available to me during my chemo as there is no substitute for the beneficial effects.

    To Chris, while it can be psychologically addicting, particularly to teenagers it is not physically addicting and is defiantly not highly addictive and there are few to no accounts of violent behavior to obtain it or while on it, check the literature out there. I agree that young people should avoid it but it undermines it legitimate uses to characterize it as addictive as some patients would greatly benefit from its use will avoid it.

    I support medical marijuana use, and if there are people obtaining it this way that do not need it for medical use, so be it. These individuals would buy it regardless, and patients that need it mostly do not have access to a dealer or wouldn’t know how to get it otherwise are able to. It takes the seediness out of it and removing barriers for those who could greatly benefit but are hesitant because of perception is necessary.

  7. Michael,

    The reason why most drugs cost a lot is not solely due to patents. The ever increasing amount of testing required to manufacture, test, label, warehouse and distribute a persciption drug to meet FDA regulations and CE Requirements is phenomenal. The FDA is pushed more by the consumers that stand up and organize to remove drugs from the market than consumers that praise the FDA.
    Just my two cents.

    Sign me,

    Quality Engineer who works in the regulated Medical Device field.

  8. Why is marijuana illegal, medical or otherwise? How did it happen? Why is it worse than any other legal substance, especially the potentially lethal ones like alcohol, Vicodin, etc? Who is the last person you heard of that overdosed on marijuana?

    Making marijuana illegal is what made it dangerous. When something is illegal, the only people willing to supply it are criminals. By forcing people / patients to deal with criminals in order to purchase a product puts them at risk. Why? Buying alcohol during prohibition vs. buying alcohol now should answer that question.

    Almost anything can be misused and abused (Elmer’s Glue), but it is a shame to deny people / patients access to something that can help alleviate their suffering. Not to mention, the cost of paying federal agents to look around to find and confiscate plants growing in the middle of no where. Would that money be better spent on healthcare itself?

  9. Ok folks I have had more than one loved one who was addicted to marijuana and I have seen the effects first hand. I’m not an idiot on this subject and I have read the literature and I could probably write some with everything I have been through. I also said in my first comment that it could be very beneficial for persons who have life threatening terminal illnesses ie. cancer. It is great under those circumstanses because it relieves anxiety, decreases pain, helps with sleeping and eating and just in general makes that person feel better. I am also very aware of why medications are so costly I also work in the medical field and the cost of prescription drugs are outragious. Everyone has an opinion but all i can say is I have lived it. It does lead to bigger and badder addictions so to speak.

  10. Chris,

    You stated that marijuana was “a very addictive drug” and now it seems you are backing off that statement with your latest statement. So which is it? Biologically speaking, marijuana is not addicting. You should know that if you work in the medical field as a person who actually had to study science and physiology in order to perform your job. I do agree that it is possible for people to be psychologically dependent to smoke marijuana because they want to take themselves out of their reality. Marijuana as well as other drugs and alcohol can do that.

    However, it is exactly your type of misleading statements that end of shaping the debates and distracting the alarmist populations from dealing with the issues based in reality. I am not a pot smoker because I am not sick and my job would be in jeopardy if I considered it, but I experimented with it when I was younger. I have never known anyone that I could honestly say was addicted to it. Please stop making outrageous statements that have no scientific support. And I hope your loved ones get the psychological help they need, and do not waste their money on medical treatments for addiction.

  11. No I did not back off that statement it is an addicting drug but also an effective drug for terminally ill cancer patients and I’m sorry you believe my statements are outrageous but anyone can become addicted to anything. Just because you did not become addicted and you friends to your knowledge did not become addicted does not mean you can’t. P.S a psychological dependancy is a form of addiction

  12. Friend,
    I have to agree with you, it sound like Chris may have addiction in his Family history as many people do, they would get addicted to almost anything be it good or bad. As I stated in my first post do the research then evaluate your self then judge or decide..


  14. I am enjoying the depate on dependency and additions. Without dialogue you cannot get things done! Yes, addictions can happen and with many substances. Many have addictive personalities. Some are addicted to sex or gambling but most people would not condem sex on that basis. Dependencies are when your body will go through withdrawals when taken off a medication but it is technically not an addiction unless one becomes obsessive/compulsive. Many of those may develope multiple addictions, so that if they are taken off of one thing, they get started on another. For example an alcoholic may quit drinking but start taking Vicodin as it has a cross tolerance. I would prefer to see weed as an inhalent removed. THC is available in pill form and that would reduce the stress on the lungs. However, that would give the business to big pharma instead of local farmers. Its a tough call.

    From the New York Times:
    Assemblyman Richard N. Gottfried, a Manhattan Democrat, has written a bill that would effectively legalize marijuana for the sick. He said the federal government has approved the use of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the active ingredient in marijuana, in pill form.

    ”The idea that the drug laws are focused on whether you take your THC in a pill form from a major drug company or by inhaling makes no sense,” he said. ”Doctors are allowed to prescribe controlled substances for medical purposes, like morphine, codeine and Valium. Nobody thinks that undermines our antidrug message to young people.”