Model Guidelines for the Recommendation of Marijuana in Patient Care


Report of the FSMB Workgroup on Marijuana and Medical Regulation


Adopted as policy by the Federation of State Medical Boards

April 2016


Over the past two decades, the attitudes and laws in the United States have become more tolerant towards marijuana, with the proportion of adults using the substance doubling between 2001 and 2013. Due to the increasing number of state governments authorizing the use of marijuana and marijuana infused product for “medicinal purposes,” state medical and osteopathic boards now have the added responsibility for the regulatory oversight of physicians choosing to incorporate the recommendation of marijuana in patient care and management.

The Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB) Chair, J. Daniel Gifford, MD, FACP, appointed the Workgroup on Marijuana and Medical Regulation to develop model policy guidelines regarding the recommendation of marijuana in patient care, including conditions, diseases, or indications for which marijuana may be recommended. The Workgroup was further tasked with the development of a position statement or white paper regarding the regulation of licensees who use marijuana, which will be addressed in a separate document.

In order to accomplish this charge, the Workgroup reviewed existing laws and medical and osteopathic board rules, regulations and policies related to marijuana; reviewed current literature and policies related to the incorporation of marijuana by health care professionals in their professional practice and related research; and reviewed cases of board disciplinary actions related to the recommendation of marijuana in patient care and/or use and abuse of marijuana by licensees.

This policy document is intended as a resource to state medical boards in regulating physicians and physician assistants (or other licensees regulated by the board) with a full and unrestricted license participating in marijuana programs and may also be valuable in educating licensees as to the board’s expectations when recommending marijuana to a patient for a particular medical condition. The guidelines should in no way be construed as encouraging or endorsing physicians to recommend marijuana as a part of patient care.

In developing the model guidelines that follow, the Workgroup conducted a comprehensive review of marijuana statutes, rules, and state medical board policies currently enacted across the country, and considered research reports, peer-reviewed articles, and policy statements regarding the recommendation of marijuana in patient care. In addition, a survey of FSMB member boards was conducted to determine which issues related to marijuana and medical regulation are of high priority to state boards. Fifty-one out of 70 state boards completed the survey, yielding a 72.9% response rate. Many boards reported several issues being most important to their board about marijuana and medical regulation, including guidance on handling recreational use by physicians (31.4%), guidance on handling marijuana for medical use by physicians (47.1%), and model guidelines for recommending marijuana for medical purposes to patients (49.0%).

Section One. Background.

Marijuana has been suggested for alleviating symptoms of a range of debilitating medical conditions, such as cancer, HIV/AIDS, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s Disease, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), epilepsy, Crohn’s Disease, and glaucoma, as well as an alternative to narcotic painkillers. Accordingly, marijuana use in patient care has increased in popularity nationwide since 1996 when California voters passed Proposition 215, making it the first state to allow marijuana to be recommended in patient care. Since then, 22 other states, in addition to the District of Columbia and Guam, have enacted laws or passed ballot initiatives establishing comprehensive “medical marijuana programs,” authorizing marijuana for medical purposes.

Moreover, 17 states have enacted laws to permit limited use of cannabidiol (CBD) oils for the treatment of specific illnesses and symptoms.

Section Two. Definitions.

For the purposes of these guidelines, the following definitions apply:

“Marijuana” means the leaves, stems, flowers, and seeds of all species of the plant genus cannabis, whether growing or not. It does not include the mature stalks of the plant, fiber produced from the stalks, oil or cake made from the seeds of the plant, any other compound, manufacture, salt, derivative, mixture or preparation of the mature stalks, fiber, oil or cake or sterilized seed of the plant which is incapable of germination.

“Medical Marijuana Program” is the term used in some state statutes, rules, and regulations that provide for the medical use, cultivation and dispensing of marijuana for medical purposes, which may or may not include specific medical conditions for which a physician (or other licensed health care provider) may issue a recommendation, attestation, or authorization for a patient to obtain and use marijuana. “Cannabidiol (CBD) Oil” means processed cannabis plant extract, oil, or resin that contains a high percentage of cannabidiol, but a low percentage of tetrahydrocannabinol.

Section Three. Guidelines.

The Federation of State Medical Boards has adopted the following guidelines for the recommendation of marijuana in patient care:

Physician-Patient Relationship: The health and well-being of patients depends upon a collaborative effort between the physician and the patient. The relationship between a patient and a physician is complex and based on the mutual understanding of the shared responsibility for the patient’s health care. The physician-patient relationship is fundamental to the provision of acceptable medical care. Therefore, physicians must have documented that an appropriate physician-patient relationship has been established, prior to providing a recommendation, attestation, or authorization for marijuana to the patient. Consistent with the prevailing standard of care, physicians should not recommend, attest, or otherwise authorize marijuana for themselves or family member.

Patient Evaluation: A documented in-person medical evaluation and collection of relevant clinical history commensurate with the presentation of the patient must be obtained before a decision is made as to whether to recommend marijuana for medical use. At minimum, the evaluation should include the patient’s history of present illness, social history, past medical and surgical history, alcohol and substance use history, family history with emphasis on addiction or mental illness/ psychotic disorders, physical exam, documentation of therapies with inadequate response, and diagnosis requiring the marijuana recommendation.

Informed and Shared Decision Making: The decision to recommend marijuana should be a shared decision between the physician and the patient. The physician should discuss the risks and benefits of the use of marijuana with the patient. Patients should be advised of the variability and lack of standardization of marijuana preparations and the effect of marijuana.

Patients should be reminded not to drive or operate heavy machinery while under the influence of marijuana. If the patient is a minor or without decision-making capacity, the physician should ensure that the patient’s parent, guardian or surrogate is involved in the treatment plan and consents to the patient’s use of marijuana.

Treatment Agreement: A health care professional should document a written treatment plan that includes:

• Review of other measures attempted to ease the suffering caused by the terminal or debilitating medical condition that do not involve the recommendation of marijuana.

• Advice about other options for managing the terminal or debilitating medical condition.

• Determination that the patient with a terminal or debilitating medical condition may benefit from the recommendation of marijuana.

• Advice about the potential risks of the medical use of marijuana to include:

• The variability of quality and concentration of marijuana;

• The risk of cannabis use disorder;

• Exacerbation of psychotic disorders and adverse cognitive effects for children and young adults;

• Adverse events, exacerbation of psychotic disorder, adverse cognitive effects for children and young adults, and other risks, including falls or fractures;

• Use of marijuana during pregnancy or breast feeding;

• The need to safeguard all marijuana and marijuana-infused products from children and pets or domestic animals; and

• The need to notify the patient that the marijuana is for the patient’s use only and the marijuana should not be donated or otherwise supplied to another individual.

• Additional diagnostic evaluations or other planned treatments.

• A specific duration for the marijuana authorization for a period no longer than twelve months.

• A specific ongoing treatment plan as medically appropriate.

Qualifying Conditions: At this time, there is a paucity of evidence for the efficacy of marijuana in treating certain medical conditions. Recommending marijuana for certain medical conditions is at the professional discretion of the physician. The indication, appropriateness, and safety of the recommendation should be evaluated in accordance with current standards of practice and in compliance with state laws, rules and regulations which specify qualifying conditions for which a patient may qualify for marijuana.

Ongoing Monitoring and Adapting the Treatment Plan: Where available, the physician recommending marijuana should register with the appropriate oversight agency and provide the registry with information each time a recommendation, attestation, authorization, or reauthorization is issued [see Appendix 1]. Where available, the physician recommending marijuana should check the state Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP) each time a recommendation, attestation, authorization, or reauthorization is issued.

The physician should regularly assess the patient’s response to the use of marijuana and overall health and level of function. This assessment should include the efficacy of the treatment to the patient, the goals of the treatment, and the progress of those goals.

Consultation and Referral: A patient who has a history of substance use disorder or a cooccurring mental health disorder may require specialized assessment and treatment. The physician should seek a consultation with, or refer the patient to, a pain management, psychiatric, addiction or mental health specialist, as needed.

Medical Records: The physician should keep accurate and complete medical records.

Information that should appear in the medical record includes, but is not necessarily limited to the following:

• The patient’s medical history, including a review of prior medical records as appropriate;

• Results of the physical examination, patient evaluation, diagnostic, therapeutic, and laboratory results;

• Other treatments and prescribed medications;

• Authorization, attestation or recommendation for marijuana, to include date, expiration, and any additional information required by state statute;

• Instructions to the patient, including discussions of risks and benefits, side effects and variable effects;

• Results of ongoing assessment and monitoring of patient’s response to the use of marijuana;

• A copy of the signed Treatment Agreement, including instructions on safekeeping and instructions on not sharing.

Physician Conflicts of Interest: A physician who recommends marijuana should not have a professional office located at a dispensary or cultivation center or receive financial compensation from or hold a financial interest in a dispensary or cultivation center. Nor should the physician be a director, officer, member, incorporator, agent, employee, or retailer of a dispensary or cultivation center.