Medical Pot: The Silliness of Determining Qualifying Conditions

Utah residents hoping to get their medical cannabis cards must be diagnosed by a medical provider as suffering from a qualifying condition. The Beehive State is not alone in this requirement. Most states with medical cannabis programs maintain a list of qualifying conditions.

The silliness of how those qualifying conditions are determined is made evident by studying how the system works. In most cases, qualifying conditions are chosen by politicians who are expected to brush up on the science before taking any action. But let’s be honest about it, your typical politician is neither a scientist nor a medical professional.

At the federal level, we do not allow representatives and senators to determine the appropriate uses for prescription medications. That determination is left to the FDA. In addition, it is not unusual for doctors to prescribe medications to treat illnesses for which they were never originally intended. They have the knowledge to do so.

Why the System Exists

At this point you might be tempted to ask why the current system exists. There are three reasons, beginning with the fact that medical pot legalization is way ahead of the science. States are passing medical marijuana laws based mainly on anecdotal evidence and a desire to show compassion.

Using Utah as an example again, its list of qualifying conditions includes cancer. Salt Lake City’s Utah Marijuana says it is a matter of showing compassion to patients dealing with unbearable pain. Science still doesn’t fully explain how marijuana relieves pain, but patients swear by it.

On the other hand, other patients testify to the ability of medical cannabis to help them sleep. Yet chronic insomnia is not on Utah’s list. Lawmakers say there is not enough science to justify adding it.

Limited Scientific Research

The second reason explaining why the system exists is an extension of the first. Simply put, medical marijuana laws are ahead of the science because lawmakers have limited scientific research to work with. Research has been kept to a minimum by marijuana’s status as a Schedule I-controlled substance.

It is difficult to grow marijuana in this country, even for research purposes. Likewise, the federal government keeps a tight rein on all research pursuits. The end result is that we now have millions of people using medical marijuana even though research into its efficacy and safety is not very abundant.

A Lack of Federal Standards

Third, the current system of determining qualifying conditions exists in the absence of any federal standards. Comparing medical marijuana to a new cancer therapy illustrates the point perfectly.

In order for a pharmaceutical company to bring a new cancer therapy to market, it must first go through a long and arduous approval process that can take a decade or more. Along the way, the company works with the FDA to establish standards for the drug’s eventual use.

Because marijuana is still considered illicit under federal law, no such standards exist. The processors responsible for making medical marijuana products never submit their products to the FDA for approval. No clinical trials are done. Test results are not given to the FDA for review. Without the necessary information, the FDA cannot say exactly what medical marijuana is appropriate for.

It is silly to expect politicians to create a qualifying conditions list that makes any sense. Just compare the lists in numerous states and see for yourself. Unfortunately, there is no other option at this time. Until something is done to address the lack of scientific research and federal standards, politicians will be left guessing as to medical marijuana’s safety and efficacy.