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How Lancaster-area hospitals are handling the issue of medical marijuana

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Patients who want to use medical marijuana while in a Lancaster-area hospital might be able to do so, but not without jumping through hoops.

Exact policies differ, but Hershey Medical Center, Lancaster General Hospital and WellSpan Ephrata Hospital do not allow vaped or nebulized products — the most popular forms of medical marijuana.

It’s a maybe for other forms — with abundant caveats about staff not administering it. If allowed, the hospitals may require the patient and any registered caregivers to give proof of being properly certified through Pennsylvania’s program. They may check the dispensary packaging to make sure all is in order.

The hospitals also generally involve the patient’s attending physician, allowing use in the hospital only if that doctor says yes, and then requiring waivers and sometimes special requirements — such as the medical marijuana remaining in the patient or caregiver’s possession at all times.

LGH doesn’t allow patients to self-administer medical marijuana but, if all is in order, may permit a caregiver to bring and administer it.

Conflicting laws

All the red tape is the result of health systems trying to accommodate patients who are using a product that state law allows — but also protect themselves, as marijuana remains illegal under federal law and hasn’t undergone the rigorous clinical testing required of legal prescription drugs.

UPMC Pinnacle, which has a hospital in Lititz, said in a written statement that using or possessing marijuana is prohibited on its property.

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Its statement continued, “Medical marijuana, for a patient who is authorized to possess under state law, is treated in the same way as any other personal medication that a patient might bring into the hospital. It is either returned to the patient’s home with an authorized caregiver or sent to hospital security.”

Similar to supplements

The first medical marijuana sale under Pennsylvania’s law was in mid-February 2018, and the state department of health has reported certifying more than 105,000 patients.

Few patients have sought to use medical marijuana while hospitalized so far, according to the hospitals, but interest is growing.

Mary Crerand, manager of pharmacy quality assessment at WellSpan Health’s York hospital, helped craft WellSpan’s policy.

The policy was in effect for a while before anyone used it, she said, estimating that since the beginning of the year three or four patients have been OK’d to use medical marijuana in the hospital.

There’s a similar policy for dietary supplements, she said, noting that patients are discouraged from bringing either to the hospital because “there can be drug interactions and other untoward effects that we can’t predict.”

And speaking of supplements, Crerand cautioned people about the popular cannabis compound CBD.

Pennsylvania allows sale of CBD products made from marijuana only to medical marijuana program participants through dispensaries — but CBD can also be made from industrial hemp, and those legal products are becoming widely available over the counter and in convenience stores.

“Particularly I would warn people buying CBD on the internet is not a good idea,” she said.