More than half of all Americans live in a state with legal access to medical marijuana. But while millions of Americans use cannabis products to relieve a vast array of ailments and conditions, the country’s medical community is still largely skeptical about the once controversial plant.
For Florida medical marijuana patient Michael Morell, the discrepancies between state pot laws and the local medical community were so vast that he requested an early dismissal from a Miami area hospital after doctors labeled him a drug addict for consuming cannabis.
Detailed in a new feature from the Miami New Times, Morell was taken to Homestead Hospital in late June after suffering an epileptic seizure. Morell was diagnosed with epilepsy as an adult, and after trying a variety of narcotic treatments to no avail, he settled on a cannabis nasal spray recommended by a local physician and sanctioned by local medical marijuana laws.
After running a slew of tests, including a CT scan, MRI, EKG, and a toxicology report, doctors found a cyst in Morell’s brain. But when a hospital psychiatrist stopped by Morell’s room more than four hours after the final tests, he didn’t want to discuss the brain scans. Instead, the doctor looked at his toxicology report, and repeatedly asked if Morell used illicit drugs. After denying any illegal drug use, the doctor asked if Morell used cannabis. Morell did not hide his medical marijuana use, but made clear to note that he had a license to consume the plant, and that it had helped reduce his seizures significantly.
Not willing to see the patient’s side of the situation, the psychiatrist and another physician both came to the conclusion that Morell suffered from cannabis use disorder.
Understandably, Morell was appalled by the doctors’ focus on his cannabis use, and requested an immediate release from their care. Before he could reach the door, though, Morell says that he was told that cannabis could make his seizures worse, induce schizophrenia, and that he should seek drug addiction treatment. Those sentiments were backed up in consultation notes that Morell turned over to the New Times. And to boot, his exit paperwork suggested that he go to a drug treatment facility — after he was hit with a $60,000 hospital bill.
"Doctors and hospitals need to understand that marijuana is a medicine," Karen Goldstein, the executive director of Florida's chapter of the National Organization to Reform Marijuana Laws (NORML), told the New Times. "They need to update their policies."
Across the medical marijuana landscape, doctors have been largely reluctant to consider medical cannabis as a serious treatment, in part because of federal prohibition and lasting stigmas. There are also research barriers that have prevented any longitudinal, clinical research on cannabis that could bring the plant in line with other, more widely accepted medications.
“A doctor is responsible for the health of a patient regardless of the cause,” Goldstein continued. “If they're making a moral decision, then that's wrong."
Follow Zach Harris on Twitter