Sirven: Medical Marijuana Means More Time In The Waiting Room

By Dr. Joseph Sirven
Published: Monday, April 14, 2014 - 12:49am
Updated: Wednesday, May 21, 2014 - 5:09pm
(Photo courtesy of KJZZ News)
Two of the marijuana cookbooks that patients brought to Dr. Sirven's office.

The new Arizona law legalizing medical marijuana is having some unintended consequences. Here's commentary from Dr. Joseph Sirven.

To all of my patients, I’m sorry for running behind schedule. But please blame medical marijuana for the delay, not me. 

You see, as a prescribing neurologist, my specialty stands at the front-line of the medical marijuana debate. Cannabis is now used to treat many brain disorders like epilepsy, Alzheimer’s, chronic pain and multiple sclerosis.

And ever since Arizona approved medical marijuana, I’ve had a surge in requests for the drug, and this discussion takes a lot of time. I can’t keep up.

You see, during a routine medical visit, patients sheepishly ask me for a pot prescription in the last five minutes of our allotted time. And let’s just say that a simple "yes" or "no" answer is never enough. These folks are ready for a fight. They’re armed with more journal articles than a medical school professor, to which I am expected to respond to each point as though we’re keeping score.

One patient even gave me marijuana cookbooks so I could experiment at home with my family.

Even when I agree with the patient, I can’t prescribe the drug because it’s considered illegal by the federal government, a fact that does not sit well with medical institutions like mine. But I still take precious time explaining state versus national law.

Even if I could prescribe it, how exactly would I? Marijuana contains almost 400 different chemicals, and I have no idea how to grow perfect medical marijuana. I’m a doctor. Not a botanist. 

At least medicines made by drug companies have the FDA seal of approval for dose, preparation and detailed safety risks so I can actually guide my patients.  Marijuana doesn’t.

Don’t get me wrong, I want to help, and I get the fact that if we had better treatments, then no one would be asking me for marijuana. But until cannabis is FDA approved or part of an official drug trial, I’m left to listen and fight for changes in the law. 

So the next time you come and see me, relax. Be patient. I’m going to be a little late to our appointment.       

Dr. Sirven is a KJZZ commentator and a Scottsdale-based neurologist.

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