Why Is Medical Marijuana Not a Prescription Drug?

Medical marijuana is now legal in nearly three dozen states. It is probably only a matter of time before the rest get on board. Interestingly, there is a huge disconnect between what people think about medical marijuana and what federal and state laws actually say about it. For example, did you know that medical marijuana is not a prescription drug? And if so, have you ever wondered why?

Exploring the realities of marijuana as a medicine reveals that doctors are not unanimous about its appropriateness or efficacy. Research reveals that the FDA is not necessarily on board with it, either. It turns out that the general public is the primary driver behind medical cannabis. Science is not.

Close up of medical marijuana buds spilling out of prescription bottle with label on black background

Drug Certification vs. Written Prescriptions

One of the biggest misconceptions about medical marijuana is its status as an approved drug. Major media outlets often refer to it being made available through a doctor’s prescription. But that is not even close to reality. Doctors do not write marijuana prescriptions in any state. This is one of the things that differentiates medical marijuana from drugs like codeine and penicillin.

If you were hoping to buy a cannabis product at Deseret Wellness, a Utah marijuana dispensary in Provo, you would not enter their premises with a prescription in hand. Rather, you would carry a medical cannabis card issued by the state. How would you have obtained that card?

First, a visit to your doctor would have been in order. The doctor’s job is to certify that you suffer from one of the conditions eligible for medical marijuana under Utah law. You would take your doctor’s certification and combine it with an online application and administrative fee. If all were in order, the state would issue a card.

Lacking Prescription Details

The difference between a written prescription and a government-issued drug card is as clear as the instructions that come with legal drugs. When a doctor writes a prescription, he or she includes detailed information about dosage and frequency. Every prescription eventually expires, requiring the patient to renew if necessary.

Medical cannabis is drastically different in its lack of instructions. In fact, it is completely open-ended. Doctors may recommend certain dosages, but there is no requirement to do so. There is also no requirement for patients to follow any such recommendations. A medical cannabis card allows them to buy cannabis products at will. They can use those products as they see fit.

Lack of FDA Approval

Another big difference between cannabis and prescription drugs is found in the lack of FDA approval. Before the FDA approves any prescription medication, it must undergo rigorous testing to prove safety and efficacy. A failure to prove both almost always means FDA denial.

Medical marijuana is not a prescription drug because it has not been approved by the FDA. Furthermore, the FDA has not approved it because no drug company has put cannabis through the rigorous medical testing necessary to gain approval. And now that so many states have approved medical cannabis with nothing more than a state-issued card, it is highly unlikely a drug company will ever undertake serious studies.

All of this is quite unfortunate inasmuch as doctors are the most qualified to say whether or not cannabis is appropriate for patients. Moreover, making cannabis a prescription drug would give doctors more say in how the drug is actually used. Shouldn’t that be the case with any drug being used for medicinal purposes?

Despite what you may believe, medical marijuana is not a prescription drug. There are very valid reasons for this. Calling it a prescription drug does not change the reality.

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