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'WEED-ing' them out! - Views split on whether medical doctors should be sanctioned for smoking ganja

Published:Thursday | June 22, 2017 | 12:00 AMNadine Wilson-Harris
De La Haye

Although the possession and personal use of a small quantity of ganja is decriminalised in Jamaica, president of the Jamaica Medical Doctors' Association, Dr Elon Thompson, is among those cautioning colleagues against smoking the weed for recreational purposes.

"We are suggesting to our members not to engage in any smoking as this may be detrimental to their health," said Thompson, who explained that he is not against the use of marijuana for medical purposes.

"We believe that based on the current evidence that is available to us, smoking in and of itself is something that should not be practised based on the detrimental effects that we know of tobacco and marijuana smoking," said Thompson.

There is evidence that some Jamaican doctors smoke ganja recreationally while others have been known to smoke tobacco.


Can impair judgement


But chief medical officer Dr Winston De La Haye is among those who have noted that ganja has the ability to impair the judgement of users.

"If you want to smoke, that's fine. I personally wouldn't want a physician treating me who is potentially impacted by cannabis or any other drug," said De La Haye at a seminar last weekend.

Public health expert, Dr Sandra Knight, has seen at first hand the impact ganja smoking has on some of her patients and feels that with no telling who will be affected, it is best to not start the habit.

"Marijuana is a questionable substance, meaning we have proven that it can cause psychosis; we have proven that it can contribute to malignancies, we have proven that it can be harmful to your health, and it would be challenging for a physician to be harming his own health and then be able to say to a patient, 'do not do this'. It diminishes the physician's position in the patient's eyes, I believe," said Knight.

According to Knight, while some of her patients have been smoking marijuana for many years and are perfectly okay, there are those who become psychotic after smoking it just once.

"How do we know which physician is going to go the psychotic way and which physician can do it for 20 or 30 years? Because if you are going to go the psychotic way, then you will not be able to treat patients because you will not be able to command your faculty enough," added Knight.

But that position is not universal as several local medical practitioners have no issue with their colleagues smoking the weed once they are off duty.

"The danger with marijuana use is that it unmasks underlining psychiatric problems, and once there is no issue with respect to that, it should not affect the physician's work.

"As long as they are not using drugs at the time when they are supposed to be treating patients, whether they are at the office or hospital or on call, then if they need to, then I don't think persons should discriminate against people who use marijuana," said Dr Alfred Dawes, senior medical officer at the Savanna-la-Mar Public General Hospital.

As it now stands, doctors who are unable to perform their jobs as a result of being impaired from alcohol consumption or due to marijuana and other forms of drugs face the risk of being sanctioned.

"Even the smell of alcohol on one's breath on the job is grounds for disciplinary proceedings for a doctor. That person is liable for sanction; you don't even have to have proof that they are drunk," explained president of the Medical Association of Jamaica, Dr Myrton Smith.

But Smith also believes that doctors should not be discriminated against for smoking while not on the job.

"Doctors are a microcosm of the general population, and just like in the general population you will have people who smoke and those who don't," said Smith.

"From the position of having a good moral grounds to tell someone the ills of smoking tobacco or marijuana, such a doctor would obviously lose credibility in that regard, but I don't think that it would be something that would be sufficient to say that they should be unable to practise medicine," added Smith.