Federal Government Offers New Guidelines for Doctors Regarding Testing Patients for Marijuana

By: Timothy Bidon

It’s no secret that the Federal Government is trying to crack down on the prescription opioid addiction epidemic holding the United States in its grip. Given mounting evidence that medical marijuana shows promise in reducing opioid-related deaths in states where it is legal, a new set of guidelines released by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is also advising doctors across the nation to stop testing their patients for marijuana.

This pivotal shift attests to the growing momentum behind the legalization movement that is, increasingly, gaining traction both within and outside of government institutions. This move by the CDC comes buried in a larger document explaining the guidelines for prescribing opioids to patients experiencing chronic pain. The guidelines indicate that the CDC is now urging doctors to modify their drug screening policies so that a positive THC result in a urine test no longer disqualifies a patient from treatment. The agency, however, still stand behinds the practice of urine testing to gauge the presence of other “illicit substances,” though it specifically states that this rule should not longer apply to THC.

In the initial stages of care, patients are not typically subject to drug tests from their family practitioner to receive a pain medication prescription. The practice tends to occur, most often, in the transition between family practitioner to a larger pain management clinic. These facilities tend to hold patients to a higher standard before allowing them to continue their pain management plans. The new CDC guidelines argue, however, that maintaining these practices for THC only lead to a “stigmatization” and “inappropriate termination of care” which, they allege, may actually drive patients to seek out prescription-grade opioids through illicit means, thus contributing to the overall epidemic.

The Pain News Network, which played a pivotal role in seeing this provision written into the new CDC guidelines, also sites false positives as a major concern in THC urine testing for patients suffering chronic pain. According to their calculations, an estimated 21% of THC urine tests came back with either a false positive or negative result, respectively.

This move by the CDC marks continued progress for medical marijuana advocates in all aspects of the industry, but the work is far from over. Hopefully more government agencies follow the footsteps of the CDC in re-evaluating medical marijuana’s potential in pain management and, more broadly, re-evaluating the country’s failed “War on Drugs,” which remains the largest obstacle to a thriving, national, medical marijuana program.

Lead image source: Health Impact News