In recent years, more than 20 states have legalized the use of marijuana to treat certain medical conditions. However, there is still substantial controversy surrounding the use of the drug and many are questioning if the use of medical marijuana as a treatment will impact their application to receive Social Security Disability benefits.
What Exactly Is Medical Marijuana?
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “medical marijuana refers to using the whole unprocessed marijuana plant or its basic extracts to treat a disease or symptom.”
At this time, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not approved the use of the entire plant as a medicine, however, research and clinical trials have lead to the creation and approval of two medications which contain cannabinoids. Cannabinoids contain some of the chemicals found in marijuana.
The Benefits Of Medical Marijuana
Marijuana and its chemical components can be used to treat a wide variety of conditions including:
- Seizure Disorders
- Alzheimer’s Disease
- Muscle Spasms
There is also evidence that leads researchers to believe that marijuana may help relieve the side effects of conditions like Lupus, MS, and Parkinson’s disease.
Why Hasn’t The U.S. Food and Drug Administration Approved Marijuana?
The simple answer is that in order for the FDA to approve the plant as a medical treatment, additional studies and clinical trials involving a wide variety of patients will need to be performed. Additionally, one study or clinical trial will not be able to determine if marijuana is capable of treating each of the above medical conditions, so each condition will need to be independently approved.
This process will take time and a lot of money.
Then How Can It Be Prescribed?
Technically, the drug isn’t prescribed because it isn’t an FDA-approved medication. However, thanks to state laws, doctors can issue a certificate which is basically a recommendation, indicating that the patient is qualified for medical marijuana. The patient can then obtain the marijuana from a state-licensed dispensaries, sort of like an over-the-counter drug that just happens to have additional regulations.
The dispensaries obtain their marijuana from licensed growers.
Why Are People Concerned About Their Social Security Disability Benefits?
Many are concerned that, even with their doctor’s certificate, the use of medical marijuana will exclude them from eligibility for Social Security Disability Benefits, due to the DDA.
The Drug Abuse and Alcoholism Policy (DDA)
Social Security can deny benefits to an applicant who abuses illegal drugs or alcohol. That being said, in order to do so, it must be determined that the drug or alcohol is a “contributing factor material to the determination of disability”. Basically, they want to know if the applicant would continue to be disabled if they stopped abusing a substance. Applications may also be denied if it can be proven that the abused substance makes the disabling condition worse.
While daily use of marijuana for healthy individuals is still illegal and may be considered an abuse of the drug, this isn’t necessary the case for those who suffer from a disability condition. When it comes to medical marijuana, the decision will likely be made on a case by case basis.
What complicates the matter even further is that applicants can have their benefits denied if they fail to follow their prescribed treatment. The bottom line is, that dealing with medical marijuana is complicated and a complete guide or rules or regulations on how Social Security should view its use have not yet been put into place.
What Can Applicants Do?
The first step is to consult with a social security disability attorney. An attorney can review your circumstances and help you determine if filling a prescription for medical marijuana might jeopardize your case. Then you should contact the doctor who recommended the use of medical marijuana and provided the doctor’s certificate so that they can provide you with a written statement indicating why they believe the use of the plant is beneficial for your medical condition.
If you have already received a denial due to the use of medical marijuana, an attorney can help you with the appeal and represent you at any hearings.