House Calls / Dr. Michael Schwartz

Marijuana, or cannabis, has been used as a medicinal remedy for thousands of years. Once used as an anesthetic in ancient China, the drug has been administered throughout the world to treat many ailments including chronic pain, digestive disorders and inflammation. Nevertheless, possession of marijuana is illegal in the United States and often results in fines or imprisonment for those using it.

Tetrahydrocannabinol or THC (the active ingredient in marijuana) is rapidly absorbed into the body by either ingestion or smoking. Once in the blood stream, marijuana tends to produce a calming or euphoric affect. Additionally, it has been shown in many studies to increase appetite, decrease nausea and relax muscles. As such, it may be prescribed for a broad range of indications for general medical use. Nevertheless, marijuana also has many potential detrimental effects. Chronic users may experience depression, memory loss, anxiety and/or paranoia. Additionally, if smoked, there is an increased risk of lung cancer.

In 1978, New Mexico became the first state to pass laws permitting medical marijuana. Since that time, several other states have followed suit. On May 31, 2012, Connecticut became the 17th state to legalize medical marijuana. House Bill 5389 allows for the palliative use of marijuana for patients with chronic or debilitating illness. Some of the diseases mentioned in the bill include cancer, AIDS, Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis and spinal cord injuries.

Starting Oct. 1, patients who meet the following criteria may apply for a medical use certificate from the Department of Consumer Protection.

Patients must be at least 18 years of age.

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Patients must be diagnosed with an "approved" chronic or disabling medical condition, which falls under the approved guidelines set by the state and must be certified by a physician.

The benefits of using medical marijuana must outweigh the risks as determined by a physician.

No more than a one-month supply will be given to each patient at a time.

Pharmacies will not be licensed to dispense marijuana. Individual licensed pharmacists will be able to apply for and obtain a dispensary license from the Department of Consumer Protection.

The law specifically bans employers from refusing to hire a job applicant or discharging an employee solely on the basis of that person's status as a "qualifying patient." Thus, a positive drug test for marijuana will not be grounds for rejecting or firing an employee if it is certified for an approved medical condition.

The law prohibits ingesting marijuana in a bus, a school bus or any moving vehicle, in the workplace, on any school grounds or any public or private school, dormitory, college or university property or in any public place.

These provisions may change over time, so it's best to consult with the Department of Consumer Protection for more information.

Medical marijuana is still illegal, according to the federal government. Thus, it can still prosecute anyone growing it, using it, dispensing it or writing a prescription for it. However, given its potential benefits for the chronically ill, medical marijuana offers an alternative to medications which may not work in controlling debilitating symptoms. More research is needed to determine the best ways of using this compound; however, as more states legalize its use, more information will be available for physicians to determine the benefits for patients. Visit your doctor for more information.

Dr. Michael Schwartz is board certified in internal medicine with a private practice in Darien. For comments or questions, visit his website at