A medical non-profit organization refused to provide psychiatric services to a Connecticut man because he uses legal medicinal marijuana.

medical marijuana prescriptionMichael Purcell, a resident of Plainsville, Conn., said he’s been using weed as medication to treat his severe arthritis. He’s a legal, registered patient, and his condition is covered by the state’s medical marijuana laws. Purcell said his only other options are opiate painkillers and other dangerous prescription drugs, and he said the pot works better than anything else.

More than 5,000 Connecticut residents use legal medical marijuana. The state allows MMJ for a short list of severe medical conditions, including cancer, HIV/AIDS, and arthritis.

Purcell’s condition rejected by private counselor

But when Purcell tried to see a private counselor to treat his clinical depression, he was rejected. Arthritis doesn’t count as a “condition” as far as the staff at United Services were concerned. United Services is a Connecticut non-profit that provides state-funded mental health services to low-income residents.

“They don’t recognize the arthritis as a condition,” Purcell said.

Officials at United Services said they couldn’t comment on the specifics of Purcell’s case due to patient privacy laws. But they acknowledged the company sometimes refuses to help patients who use medical weed. Medical Director Jay Patel declined to provide a clear explanation for why that is, but he said MMJ poses unique problems for his providers.

“It becomes very difficult for us to identify which ingredient is working on which particular condition,” said Patel.

Problem stemmed from clashing principles

medical marijuanaThat isn’t true, for the most part. Scientists have a very good idea of which conditions are best treated with THC, which with CBD, and which with both. The problem is more likely a clash of principles: Connecticut allows medicinal pot while many mental health providers insist patients must remain abstinent from all drugs, forever.

This is a dying point of view, but many psychiatric clinics and rehab centers refuse to acknowledge the growing reality of medical cannabis. Most, however, do not refuse service simply because a patient smokes up. Still, officials at the non-profit admitted that the science and politics of marijuana are shifting.

“We have been traditionally treating cannabis use disorders as a problem,” Patel said. “Now with this new wrinkle in the treatment and diagnosis, it is a real challenge for the psychiatry profession.”

Patel said there could be delays in each clinic adopting conditions that have been added to the state list. This is often the case with arthritis patients, he said.

“Many times what happens is that a given condition may not have been recognized by our clinical staff in the front line,” Patel said.

But for Purcell, the episode was about more than bureaucracy or the glacial pace of medical change. The experience made him feel “disgust,” he said, “because I didn’t think it would ever happen to me, and it did.”


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