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Doctor's Note: Making Sense of Medical Marijuana

Updated: Sep 13, 2019

Each time I consider how to solve a problem, whether it arises in my own home or impacts the diverse lives of our district and state, I weigh the potential risks against the desired benefits. You and I each make these calculations in our daily lives, and it’s what voters fairly expect of their elected representatives when deciding on public issues.

One of the issues that’s gotten a lot of attention nationwide in recent years is the use of marijuana for medical purposes. Last year, there was a unanimous decision (SB 726) to allow Virginia patients access to CBD and THC-A, the medicinal derivatives of marijuana. With the assistance of their doctors, Virginians will be able to seek these natural compounds to treat afflictions that range from pain management to Parkinson’s disease and PTSD. Is this revision to long-standing law a gateway to radical behavior? No. It’s an effective way for physicians to offer low-cost and low-risk remedies to their patients. In states where regulations have already loosened, data clearly show that opiate addiction is dramatically reduced when medical marijuana is available as a pain management alternative. Overdose deaths related to prescribed opiates have decreased by 25% in states where medical marijuana programs are available. The common-sense conclusion is that medical marijuana belongs in Virginia healthcare.

This year, I’ve introduced proposals(SB 1557) that address the details of how CBD and THC-A are administered. Because I am a doctor, my recommendations are based on provider perspective about what creates practical and effective care. One of my strongest recommendations is that medical decisions are best made by medical experts, not by politicians. In considering guidelines for the use of CBD, we must trust the expertise and experience of doctors. Currently, CBD is available only to a narrow group of patients and through a limited range of applications. Practical reforms this year will allow doctors to broaden access to more patients that they deem would benefit from proven CBD treatments. One step in expanding this access is to adjust dosing guidelines. Since current guidelines are intended for pediatric patients and for the sole condition of intractable seizures, we need to update compounding guidelines to allow for dosage strength that is effective for adults and for a broader range of conditions. Expanding the availability of effective treatment options is both compassionate and practical.

Another proposal I’ve put forth enables nurse practitioners to recommend CBD treatments, simply extending the permissions already granted to doctors to an additional class of qualified caregivers. The potential side effects and risks of medically administered CBD and THC-A are far lower than opiates and many pharmaceutical drugs currently requiring a doctor’s prescription. Allowing nurse practitioners to make treatments available will shorten the wait time and the suffering for patients dealing with pain.

With last year’s reform and these follow up measures to create sensible guidelines around medical marijuana, we are taking valuable steps in streamlining Virginians’ access to low-risk, affordable remedies. I look forward to sharing updates as these solutions take shape in our legislature and to ensuring that our doctors are empowered to deliver the best care options for you and your family.



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