Should users of medical marijuana be prevented from getting needed organ transplants?
Not according to a bill being considered by state legislators, which treats medical marijuana as no different from any other prescription drug.
Such patients would be treated the same way as those using other prescription drugs under a bill being considered by state legislators.
The measure, A-765, was prompted by a California case in which a medical marijuana user was denied an organ transplant.
While some doctors have raised concerns about the potential effects of marijuana for transplant recipients, others have said marijuana has been found to be medically necessary and shouldn’t be a barrier to a transplant.
The issue is further complicated by insurance procedures and federal law, which continues to classify marijuana as illegal.
Assemblyman Peter J. Barnes III (D-Middlesex) said he sponsored the bill after reading about the California case.
“If you’re a person who’s prescribed marijuana and you have an illness, it’s authorized, it’s legitimate, you should be turned away for a transplant,” Barnes said. “Not for the reason of using the drug.”
The state’s first marijuana dispensary opened in December, three years after the Legislature passed legislation allowing doctors to prescribe marijuana.
Barnes said more and more people are coming to understand the benefits of marijuana use for patients with serious illnesses like cancer and multiple sclerosis.
The bill is receiving support from advocates for medical marijuana. Roseanne Scotti, New Jersey state director of the Drug Policy Alliance, said patients using medical marijuana should receive equal treatment.
“Denying them that transplant is flat-out discrimination and not based on any scientific evidence, so it just seems like a very commonsense bill to us,” she said.
The marijuana-use policies of some of the state’s organ-transplant centers were not immediately available. In at least one case, use of the drug shouldn’t be an issue. At the University of Medicine & Dentistry of New Jersey’s University Hospital in Newark, marijuana use doesn’t block patients from receiving liver transplants.
“Medical marijuana is not a contra-indication for liver transplantation,” hospital spokeswoman Stacie J. Newton said. “If you are a user of marijuana, that doesn’t eliminate you from being considered for liver transplantation.”
Different hospitals across the country have reached different conclusions in an area where there are no national guidelines, said Dr. Jeffrey Crippin, a past president of the American Society of Transplantation and the medical director of the liver transplant program at Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis.
“Medical-wise, honestly, I don’t think there are issues that I’m aware of that say that marijuana will cause some horrible medical problem” that would make patients less fit for transplants or cause damage, Crippin said.
However, many transplant programs are concerned about a separate issue for liver transplant recipients – whether they are using marijuana as a temporary substitute for liver-destroying alcohol use.
“If a patient says, ‘Doctor, I’m not drinking anymore but now I’m smoking a joint or two every day,’ that always raises a red flag,” Crippin said.
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