Drug Law

Dr. Suspended: Gave Medical Pot to Pregnant Woman

| by NORML

By "Radical" Russ Belville

(7 News) DENVER — A doctor accused of approving medical marijuana for a woman six months pregnant could become the first doctor in the state to lose his medical license over a medical marijuana prescription.

Recommendation! You’ve had medical marijuana in Colorado for a decade! How long will it take the media to understand that cannabis is Schedule I and therefore cannot be “prescribed”? (Sorry, it’s a pet peeve of mine.)

The formal complaint accuses [Dr. Manuel de Jesus] Aquino of not performing a thorough review of the woman’s medical history, and not performing standard tests such as listening to her heart and taking her blood pressure.

During their 3-minute interaction, he did not examine her or ask why she needed the marijuana, or discuss with her the risks of using marijuana or discuss alternatives, according to the complaint.

Aquino did not ask the woman if she was pregnant and she did not provide the information voluntarily, according to the complaint, filed by the Colorado Attorney General’s Office of behalf of the Colorado Medical Board.

She was 28 weeks along when she went to dispensary on Jan. 20, according to the complaint.

When her baby was born on April 8, the child tested positive for marijuana during his urine drug screening and had initial feeding difficulties.

I’m as much a supporter of medical marijuana as anybody but this story really angers me. I believe that marijuana should be as legal as aspirin so I don’t even see the need to visit the doctor for his or her recommendation. However, we have passed medical marijuana laws and that means we’ve got to give proper respect to the “medical” part of the phrase.

If there were such a thing as “medical aspirin”, where we had to see doctors for their recommendation before we’d be allowed to use it, the doctor would counsel us about the potential for stomach ache, how it would thin our blood, and how taking too much could result in overdose. The doctor would ask us about our use of other medications and check our basic vital signs to determine how safe aspirin use would be for us.

So with medical marijuana – even as we know it is far safer than aspirin – we should still be doing basic medical care. It is inexcusable for anyone calling himself or herself “doctor” to not be aware of their patient’s pregnancy or basic vital signs. Maybe the visit to the dispensary doc is the only interaction with a medical professional she can afford. Maybe she’s unwise like many young people and isn’t seeking pre-natal care. This may be her one opportunity to receive valuable medical advice and catch some medical problem early on, in addition to scoring a recommendation for medical marijuana.

However, let me be clear: the recommendation of marijuana to the pregnant young woman, her use of it, and the subsequent positive metabolite test in her infant’s urine are not what I’m angry about.

According to the complaint:

12. Pregnancy is a contraindication for the use of medical marijuana.

22. Respondent did not offer Patient A alternative treatment options.

23. Respondent did not instruct Patient A to return for follow-up visits.

24. Respondent did not instruct Patient A to seek re-evaluation in the future to assess the usefulness of her continued use of medical marijuana.

I could find nothing in the Colorado medical marijuana laws and rules that forbids doctors from recommending cannabis use by pregnant women. There are plenty of studies showing that cannabis use during pregnancy can be beneficial to women battling the severe nausea of “morning sickness”. The dangers to their fetuses from moderate use are rather minimal but definitely within the spectrum of risk accepted by doctors and their pregnant patients for other prescription drugs. Pregnancy and cannabis use is something that doctors should be aware of and should use caution in recommending but pregnancy is far from a “contraindication” for cannabis use.

I’m also disturbed by the complaints about alternatives, follow-ups, and re-evaluation of usefulness of cannabis. We already require people to register with the state annually, requiring a new recommendation every time. Many of the people who use cannabis do so because it is the cheapest and best medicine they can find. To force them to spend more money on doctors in order to push them away from medical marijuana seems counterproductive.