Medical Marijuana in Focus at the University of Maryland

Multi-disciplinary symposium tackles legal and medical issues and draws on experiences of states who have legalized medical marijuana

By Jeff Raymond
April 21, 2012

Over two days in mid-April, researchers from the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy and the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law, along with other invited experts from across the country, explored the legal, medical, and policy implications of expanding the use of the substance in the course of medical treatment. The symposium on April 12 explored the use of marijuana to treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), while a daylong conference on April 13 covered the patchwork of medical marijuana laws across the country and the push for such a law in Maryland.

Researchers, clinicians, regulators, and activists agreed on the need to expand studies of the medical use of marijuana. They also called for easing the laws restricting prescription, production, distribution, and use of the plant in medically advisable situations.

“I prescribe drugs that are far more dangerous than marijuana every day that I practice,” said Dan Morhaim, MD, a physician, University of Maryland School of Medicine faculty member, and Maryland state delegate who spoke on both days.

The April 12 event on marijuana as a PTSD treatment had a review of the science of cannabis by Lynn McPherson, PharmD, BCPS, a professor in the School of Pharmacy whose specialties include pain management. Among other things, she said the stress and fear cycles of PTSD patients can be wound down with the drugs in marijuana. And while it can be addictive in some patients, she added, addiction is generally far less of a problem than with other strong narcotic drugs that are legally prescribed.

The event was sponsored by the law school’s clinical law program, its Journal of Race, Religion, Gender and Class, and the Students for a Sensible Drug Policy group.

The April 13 event – sponsored by the schools of pharmacy and law, along with the Network for Public Health Law, included a talk by a Rhode Island doctor who has prescribed marijuana as part of his pain management practice. Todd Handel, MD, said doctors not only must lead the push to legalize use of the product in each state, but then struggle to answer emerging issues of “Who do we say no to, who do we say yes to, and then how do we manage it?” There is essentially no control over the amount of marijuana a patient is supposed to take, he said, and no way to control the quality of the drug.
Near the end of the session, a panel of attorneys from states where the medical use of marijuana is legal advised Maryland and other states to use the existing laws as a template when drafting and implementing new laws. Among the most controversial decisions states and communities will face, they said, are where to locate the dispensaries where patients can pick up their marijuana.

“Do whatever you can to get stakeholder buy-in,” urged Bruce McIntyre, JD, counsel for Rhode Island’s Board of Medical Licensure and Discipline. “Do as much upfront work as humanly possible.”

The symposium was co-organized by the School of Pharmacy’s Center on Drugs and Public Policy, part of the Department of Pharmaceutical Health Services Research, and also included participation by Frank Palumbo, PhD, professor in PHSR and director of the CDPP, and Linda Simoni-Wastila, PhD, professor in PHSR.