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Cedars Sinai Drops Liver Transplant Patient from Donor List Over Medical Marijuana Use

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In The News

One guy's been fighting cancer for two years and has been on the transplant list for a new liver. But now Cedars Sinai's recently kicked him off the organ donor list in a decision that could mean life or death for Norman Smith--all because he's a medical marijuana user who's used the prescribed drug to treat radiation pain.
Doctors at Cedars Sinai are requiring that 63-year-old Smith must stop using marijuana for at least six months -- and additionally undergo counseling -- in order to even get back on the list for organ donor recipients. That's at least six months before anything can be done, period. And Norman Smith is already on a short time frame of being able to wait around.
The California man's been undergoing radiation and chemotherapy for the cancer, the potentially-terminal illness returning after previous remission. Cedars Sinai is offering up a very interesting story to the media, as to why the guy's being refused a liver over doctor-prescribed marijuana use. And that story now doesn't quite match up to the previous one in written communication, or the counseling requirement.
While there's no policy pertaining to medical marijuana users and transplants, those medical facilities that administer transplants make the final call -- according to them -- as to which patients are best candidates for receiving organs. Liver organ recipients currently face a wait time of roughly a year.
Dr. Jeffrey Crippin, former president of the American Society of Transplantation, has chimed in to the media -- despite no affiliation with Cedars. Despite the fact that prescription tablets or pain medications are known to have their own side effects or even medical hazards to the body -- as well as mental effects caused by opioids or even addiction problems -- the doctor seems to believe medical marijuana use is dangerous for organ recipients. The reasoning seems unique.
Crippin claims that if transplant patients are stoned, high or drunk they could forget to take medicine. It seems the doctor categorizes medical marijuana in treating cancer pain as equivalent to throwing back a few drinks after a liver transplant. It's an odd correlation, or reference in thought. One specifically attacks the liver and other organs, while the other effectively treats pain through ingestion.
Unlike medical marijuana, opioids can wreak havoc on the body physically and can cause sedation, dizziness, and nausea along with a plethora of other side effects. It's unclear how a patient sedated by an opioid is any less likely to forget to take medications than one using medical marijuana.
But the Cedars Sinai reason now given to the media for Smith's boot from the organ donor list may be the most interesting, in that it's not interesting. Apparently the medical team has to come up with something, other than issuing some thought along the lines of 'you're a drug addict because you use medically-prescribed marijuana to treat cancer pain': The transplant specialist facility now claims Smith's rejection has to do with mold.
The medical facility's claiming aspergillus could be detrimental to recovery after a transplant and could potentially cause a fatal lung infection in some who have a weakened immune system. There's just one problem with the theory -- Smith claims the type of marijuana he's using doesn't have mold, that it isn't a problem.
The mold alibi is actually a newer one. Written communication to Smith from earlier in the year, back in May, backs the idea that the reason doesn't really seem so related to a medical concern.
Per Cedars Sinai's May 2011 communication, in a letter from Dr. Steven D. Colquhoun as director of Cedars-Sinai's Liver Transplant Program, the doctor told Smith the liver transplant center "must consider issues of substance abuse seriously since it does often play a role in the evolution of diseases that may require transplantation, and may adversely impact a new organ after a transplant." Note the use of "substance abuse" and the correlation to receiving counseling. That's a far cry from "mold". 
Smith's oncologist and psychologist as well as supporters and medical marijuana advocates are fighting for Cedars Sinai to approve the patient for a transplant:"Denying necessary transplants to medical marijuana patients is the worst kind of discrimination. Cedars-Sinai would not be breaking any laws, federal or otherwise, by granting Norman Smith a liver transplant, and it's certainly the ethical thing to do." And there's a lawsuit pending against Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. But legal action could be too late. 
The cancer patient says: "I have inoperable cancer. If I don't get a transplant, the candle's lit and it's a short fuse."


Cedars Sinai Transplant Team
8700 Beverly Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90048
United States
34° 4' 30.612" N, 118° 22' 49.9512" W
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