Doctors examine research as medical marijuana law looms

By Lisa M. Larson and Bryan Goodchild

UMass Medical School Communications

March 26, 2013

Physicians across Massachusetts are preparing for the inception of the state medical marijuana law, which takes full effect when the Department of Public Health issues its regulations, due May 1.

The new law allows qualified patients with specific debilitating conditions to obtain written certification from their doctors to possess up to a 60-day supply of marijuana.

“There will be a lot of patients who are curious about, ‘Is this going to be helpful to me or not?’” said Alan M. Ehrlich, MD, assistant professor of family medicine &community health. “I think for those patients, the first step is for the physician to inform themselves about what kind of evidence there is and what are the alternatives the patient may want to try first.”

Dr. Ehrlich has reviewed research on the efficacy of marijuana in treating conditions specified in the new law—hepatitis C, Crohn’s disease, HIV, Parkinson’s, ALS, multiple sclerosis, glaucoma and cancer. The best evidence exists for using marijuana to treat the symptoms of HIV, Crohn's and hepatitis, he said.

“I think it’s pretty clear from the medical evidence that using smoked marijuana is not the drug of choice for any medical condition although there are some medical conditions for which marijuana may be a second- or third-line option,” Ehrlich said. ““Marijuana is not a first-line treatment for any condition.”

Learn more about research into marijuana for medical conditions in this expert’s corner video: