When physicians use medical marijuana to treat their own illnesses, complications arise

Legal concerns have made some physicians reluctant to refer their patients to use medical marijuana, but here's another wrinkle: What happens when physicians use cannabis to treat their own medical conditions?

Doing so creates a whole different set of legal concerns for doctors, according to a Physicians Practice article. Twenty-three states and the District of Columbia have now legalized the medical use of marijuana and physicians who obtain a recommendation from their own doctor can use cannabis to treat their own illnesses.

But if they work for a hospital or medical group, physicians could be violating employee drug policies. In many states, those policies trump state laws that permit the use of medical marijuana, Brendan Abel, assistant legal counsel for the Massachusetts Medical Society, told the journal.

"We advise all physicians contemplating taking marijuana for medical use to review their employment policy with an attorney to ensure compliance," Abel said.

Another concern is that physicians must also maintain their standard of care, part of which requires they be free of impairment from legal or illicit substances. Failure to do so opens physicians up to medical malpractice liability and licensing action. State license applications may also ask physicians if they use a illegal drugs. And while medical marijuana may be legal in some states, federal law still considers marijuana to be an illegal drug.

Whether doctors choose to use medical marijuana themselves, many physicians are uneasy about certifying patients to use cannabis, since it is a federally controlled substance for which there is limited clinical research, according to a Diagnostic Imaging article. Michael McGrory, a partner and healthcare attorney with the Chicago-based SmithAmundsen law firm, said laws vary from state-to-state and physicians need to be sure they follow the rules to protect their license and avoid state action. 

To learn more:
- read the Physicians Practice article
- check out the Diagnostic Imaging article