A Beginner’s Guide to Medical Marijuana
Since 2012, medical marijuana has been legal in New Jersey and it’s been playing a crucial role in relieving patients’ numerous conditions inadequately controlled with more traditional approaches. However, “It’s important to not get ahead of the science with regards to medical marijuana,” said Dr. David Boguslavsky, a Bridgewater family physician who is registered with the state to perform medical marijuana evaluations. “Although there is mounting evidence that medical marijuana can be an effective modality to treat a number of conditions, it is unlikely to be a ‘panacea cure-all’ that many wish it to be.”
The doctor emphasized that medical marijuana should be thought of simply as another treatment option for clinicians and patients. “Medical marijuana, like many other tools in a clinician’s toolbox has the potential to help patients feel better and lead more active, productive lives,” he continued. It has been shown to help those with chronic lower back pain, inflammatory bowel disease, glaucoma, anxiety and migraines. In the realm of pain control this is a far safer alternative to opioids that always carry a risk of destructive addiction.”
In New Jersey, with the debate raging about whether to legalize recreational marijuana, the number of residents using medical marijuana is still small compared to other states where medical marijuana is permitted.
According to the New Jersey Department of Health, only roughly .2 percent of the state’s population have participated in the medical marijuana program. California and Maine have the highest percentage of residents in medical marijuana programs at 3.15 percent, reports the Marijuana Policy Project, which estimates that there are 2.2 million patients nationwide. Of the 30 states where medical marijuana is legal, New Jersey ranks near the bottom in resident participation.
The most common medical condition for which medical marijuana is recommended in New Jersey, according to state statistics, is intractable skeletal spasticity. That accounts for 40 percent of all patients in the program since 2012. The second most common diagnosis is severe or chronic pain (21 percent) followed by post-traumatic stress disorder (9 percent), inflammatory bowel disease (8 percent) and terminal cancer (6 percent).
Unfortunately, obtaining medical marijuana is not easy in New Jersey. The process starts with a visit to a physician who is registered with the state Department of Health to perform marijuana evaluations and make marijuana recommendations. They’re not called prescriptions because that would be a violation of federal law, which still prohibits the use of marijuana.
Boguslavsky sees prospective patients for an hour-long intake visit where a detailed medical history is taken, medical records are reviewed, a physical exam is performed and the determination is made whether the patient qualifies for participation in the state’s Medical Marijuana Program. Urine drug screen is obtained to weed out at-risk patients with active cocaine and heroin use.
Patients bring their relevant medical records, their driver’s license and a proof of residency because the state is strict in establishing the identity of residents admitted into the program. The cost of the initial consultation is $270.
At the second visit, about a week later, Boguslavsky reviews the test results with the patient and talks with the patient about what previous experience, if any, they had with marijuana. After synthesizing all the patient information, a monthly dose of medical marijuana is determined. That monthly dose typically ranges from a half ounce to two ounces, the maximum legal dose.
Greater than half of Medical Marijuana Program participants are seniors, who need help learning how to select and use this properly. Many have not consumed marijuana for decades whereas others may have never used it at all. This is why the education plays such a crucial role in the process, with patients getting proper guidance along the way.
Once approved by the doctor, the patient registers with the state by going online and uploading the necessary documentation. A short while later, the patients receive their own Medical Marijuana card that allows them to go to a dispensary where they’ll get additional education and can purchase the marijuana.
The patients follow up regularly with the doctor to monitor their progress and to adjust dosing if necessary.
Boguslavsky, who also performs acupuncture, said he believes that skepticism about the effectiveness of medical marijuana will fade as more and more medical practitioners become aware of its benefits. When he started practicing, acupuncture was met with skepticism among other doctors who followed what Boguslavsky calls “traditional Western medicine,” but over time, more and more doctors began referring their patients to him for treatment.
So far, Boguslavsky said, most of his patients have been “extremely positive” about the impact of the medical marijuana on their health.
For many of Boguslavsky’s patients, medical marijuana has been a godsend. One patient explained, “I’ve tried various medications for pain and chronic insomnia, all of which were mostly unsuccessful because of nasty side and after-effects, along with potential issues of dependence. Nothing gave me relief without the downside. Ultimately, I just suffered endlessly without relief.” That frustration led her to explore the benefits of marijuana. She continues, “I finally decided to look into cannabis, as recommended by so many others who have experienced success. This turned out to be a long-awaited solution. Relief has been provided with no side effects! I can function again.”
After a person has obtained their identity card from the state, they are free to visit any of the six medical marijuana dispensaries, or what the state calls “alternative treatment centers”, in New Jersey, located in Woodbridge, Cranbury, Egg Harbor Township, Montclair, Secaucus and Bellmawr.
Boguslavsky believes that as the use of medical marijuana becomes more acceptable, the state will need to authorize more dispensaries, which are strictly regulated by the state. That may also lead to an eventual reduction in prices as supply and competition increase. Recent expansion of the Medical Marijuana Program should take the number of dispensaries from six to twelve, with a new dispensary approved to open in Phillipsburg.
For those looking to free themselves from migraines, chronic pain or anxiety, medical marijuana may be an unexplored safe and effective treatment option. To see if the condition qualifies for participation in the Medical Marijuana Program, the first step begins with a call to Dr. Boguslavsky.
Location: PremierMD, 757 Route 206, Bridgewater. For more information, call 908-450-7002 or visit MyPremierMD.com.
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