Article written by
Shanti RyleContent Writer
Content reviewed by
Dr. Lewis JasseyMedical Director - Pediatric Medicine
Table of contents
Doctors and (in some states) physician assistants, nurse practitioners, and registered nurses are the gatekeepers for medical marijuana use, connecting millions of patients nationwide to cannabis medicine. Yet we sometimes forget: medical professionals get sick too, and occasionally medical marijuana is the best treatment option for their conditions.
Doctors and nurses can have medical marijuana cards, but additional job-related risks are involved for medical professionals that don’t apply to the average user.
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Medical Card Rules for Doctors and Nurses
Whether or not a doctor or registered nurse can have a medical card depends on the state laws where they reside and practice, as well as their agreements with the state medical board. It’s a gray area for many medical professionals due mainly to cannabis’ status as a Schedule 1 drug under federal law and not entirely legal in all 50 states.
For nurses, the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) has helped state boards outline many guidelines for cardholders working in the medical field. Registered nurses living in states with legalized medical marijuana can have their cards. Still, using cannabis to treat a medical condition cannot interfere with their work. This means that while nurses can use marijuana for medical use, state boards could seek disciplinary action if a nurse is caught with THC in their system on the job.
The same guidance applies to doctors who want medical marijuana to treat a specific condition.
Physicians can obtain recommendations from their own doctors for cannabis use and are allowed to use recreational marijuana in states where adult use is legalized. However, doctors cannot use marijuana while on duty: doctors must maintain a standard of care that requires that they be free of any impairment from cannabis or other substances. As THC metabolites like to cling to fat cells in the body, you can test positive for cannabis even if you are not under its influence at the time.
To that end, hospitals are typically stringent on employee drug testing and enforcing a zero-tolerance drug policy. While you may not use your physician’s or nursing license for marijuana use, you could lose your job. Some states, such as California, have no medical board policy about a doctor’s or nurse’s use of cannabis, but if one is impaired on the job, the board could take disciplinary action.
Most states leave it up to the employer to enforce (or not) a drug-free workplace, and violating these policies could be grounds for termination even if the individual in question has a medical cannabis card. Several states, such as New Jersey, have introduced legislation protecting medical cannabis users in the workplace, but these laws are the exception rather than the rule.
Can Other Healthcare Providers Get a Medical Card?
Most healthcare providers can procure a card for medicinal use for their use but are subject to any workplace drug testing policies. A good rule of thumb is if you need to use cannabis, do so when you’re not working, and make sure it leaves your system before returning to work.
Medical school and nursing programs often require drug testing during the admissions process and throughout the program due to the clinical immersion experiences involved in their education. Many students are subject to urine drug screening, with drug testing policies that align with the affiliated healthcare regulatory requirements. As such, testing positive for THC use may impact a student’s ability to enroll and participate in a medical school program.
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Using CBD as a Medical Professional
Hemp-derived cannabidiol (CBD) products with less than 0.3% THC are legal to use in all 50 states, thanks to the passing of the 2018 Farm Bill. As long as the oil or product is THC-free and meets federal legal standards, nurses and doctors can use the CBD product freely.
However, it’s worth noting that many CBD products contain some THC, even when labeled as THC-free. If a doctor or nurse uses CBD oil with some THC, there is a slight risk of a positive drug test. A positive test for THC could result in termination or disciplinary action, depending on your employer.
As such, doctors and nurses should carefully research any CBD product they consume. While most CBD products claim to have less than 0.3% THC content, it’s worth reading labels, looking at lab test results, and comparing different batch tests for certainty. Those who want to stay away from THC entirely can try CBD isolates or broad-spectrum CBD.
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The Bottom Line
A doctor, nurse, or other healthcare professional cannot be impaired while on the job, whether using cannabis medically or recreationally. If any substance impairs a doctor, whether cannabis or alcohol, the doctor risks their patients’ welfare and faces disciplinary action. Depending on the circumstances, this discipline can be as severe as license revocation.
It’s best to use your medical cannabis on your own time and fully understand your employer’s and state’s rules and protections regarding medical marijuana use as a medical professional. If you want to participate in your state’s medical marijuana program, you can quickly and easily work with a Leafwell medical marijuana doctor to get a medical marijuana card.
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