Ben Dorger, Standard Examiner file photo
Cannabis plants growing at the True North grow facility in northern Utah on Thursday, January 30, 2020. The medicinal plants will supply several pharmacies in the country.
If you’ve had trouble getting hold of medical cannabis, now it gets easier.
The Utah Department of Health, along with medicinal cannabis dispensaries, launched a program Wednesday that will improve access for qualified patients. The program will allow any Utah licensed physician, physician assistant, podiatrist and nurse for advanced practice with a controlled substances license to recommend medicinal cannabis for up to 15 of their adult patients. That adds up to more than 21,000 medical providers who can now help patients who have been diagnosed with a qualifying medical condition.
“This program expands access to medical cannabis for qualified patients by increasing the number of clinicians who have the opportunity to recommend medical cannabis,” said Richard Oborn of the UDOH Center for Medical Cannabis. “In the past, adult patients had to get a referral from one of the 800 providers registered with the Utah Department of Health, but that is no longer the case.”
According to Oborn, the Utah Medical Cannabis Act assigns a specific designation to these medical providers. Patients under the age of 21 must continue to obtain medicinal cannabis recommendations from providers registered with the state health department.
Conditions that qualify include AIDS/HIV, Alzheimer’s, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), cancer, persistent treatment-resistant nausea, Crohn’s disease, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, terminal illnesses and persistent pain. Hospice patients are also qualified.
According to the University of Utah Health, medicinal cannabis, also known as medicinal marijuana, comes from two chemical compounds in the cannabis plant — delta-9-tetrahydrocannainol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). The CBD portion of the substance is not psychoactive. However, THC is, and this is the component that causes users to get high. Currently, cannabis for medical use is not approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Several studies have also shown that medicinal cannabis can be harmful in some individuals, altering judgment and decision-making, impairing concentration and short-term memory, decreasing reaction time, and interfering with the use of anti-seizure medications.
Another harmful side effect can be addiction, also known as cannabis use disorder, according to research presented at this year’s American Heart Association Virtual Scientific Sessions. Research showed that a growing number of people under the age of 50 are being diagnosed with the disease and being hospitalized with a heart attack. The AHA issued a recommendation not to smoke or vape products containing cannabis due to their potential for damaging cardiovascular health, and called for more research into cannabis use among adolescents and high-risk groups.
“Medical professionals need a better understanding of the health effects of cannabis, which has the potential to interfere with prescribed medications and/or trigger cardiovascular disease or events such as heart attacks and strokes,” said Robert Page, Chair of the AHA’s Scientific Statement on Cannabis.
Utah’s medicinal cannabis program began in March 2020. To date, there are more than 41,000 Utahns with active medicinal cannabis cards who can purchase medicinal cannabis products at any of the state’s 14 dispensaries. Pharmacies are located in North Logan, Brigham City, South Ogden, West Bountiful, Salt Lake City, South Jordan, Lehi, Provo, Payson, Springville, Cedar City and St. George. A 15th location will open in Price by the end of the year.
During the 2022 Utah Legislative Session, Senator Daniel Thatcher, R-West Valley City, introduced Senate Bill 46 entitled Medical Cannabis Patients Protection Amendments. The bill, which has bipartisan co-sponsors, would add protections for public officials in possession of medical cannabis cards.
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