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Cleveland Clinic Says Not Yet To Prescribing Medical Marijuana

Green marijuana buds lay spread out on a steel tray. [Mitch M / shutterstock]
Green marijuana buds lay spread out on a steel tray.

With the first legal sale of medical marijuana in Ohio expected to occur as early as next week, the Cleveland Clinic wants its patients to know that its doctors will not be prescribing it. 

Dr. Paul Terpeluk, Medical Director of Employee Health Services at the Cleveland Clinic, said many of the Clinic's patients have asked whether they can get a script for medical marijuana. For now, he said, the official answer is: "Not yet."

He said the reason is, unlike drugs approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), medical marijuana hasn't been tested enough to ensure it's safe and effective in most cases

"The system within the United States of approving a drug is very rigorous," he said. "They go through trials, and approvals, they do testing … and as an organization that prides itself on evidence-based healthcare and delivery of services we want to make sure we continued that rigorous approach. That's why we don't want our physicians to recommend this for conditions that haven't been proven. 

The State Medical Board of Ohio, which is responsible for certifying physicians to recommend medical marijuana, has so far approved over 350 Ohio doctors. According to the Ohio Board of Pharmacy, which is tasked with registering medical marijuana patients and licensing dispensaries, there were 4,964 recommendations in the Patient and Caregiver Registry as of Dec. 31, 2018. Of those with a recommendation, the board states that 3,575 have activated their Registry Card.

In a statement on Thursday, a University Hospitals spokesman said its physicians also will not be recommending medical marijuana "due to the discrepancy between state and federal law with regard to the legality of marijuana use."

Nevertheless, the Ohio Medical Marijuana Control Program has approved the prescribing of marijuana for over 20 medical conditions. According to the program's website, those "qualifying" medical conditions include the following: AIDS, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, chronic traumatic encephalopathy, Crohn’s disease, epilepsy or another seizure disorder, fibromyalgia, glaucoma, hepatitis C, inflammatory bowel disease, multiple sclerosis, pain that is either chronic and severe or intractable, Parkinson’s disease, positive status for HIV, post-traumatic stress disorder, sickle cell anemia, spinal cord disease or injury, Tourette’s syndrome, traumatic brain injury and ulcerative colitis.

Terpeluk said this makes him "uneasy." State regulators, he said, should have waited for more testing to be done by the FDA or the National Institutes of Health.

Asked what he would say to patients who see medical marijuana as a practical option for treating their symptoms, he said: "That’s your choice, but we at the Cleveland Clinic aren’t going to recommend it."

At least not until more rigorous research proves it is both safe and effective, he said. "When the science does get behind it, we will get behind it."