Colorado is one of the 15 U.S states with active medical marijuana programs. According to Colorado state law, a patient can approach a doctor with a range of diseases or symptoms and be given a prescription for medical marijuana. Such was the routine plan when an unidentified 20-year-old woman walked into a Denver marijuana dispensary, spoke with Dr. Manuel De Jesus Aquino and walked out with a marijuana scrip. Apparently the doctor did not notice that the woman was 28 weeks pregnant.
The doctor reportedly did not examine the woman or ask her any questions about her medical history. She was given no instructions on follow-up care, which is important as these follow-up instructions specifically indicate that medical marijuana should not be used during pregnancy.
When the baby seemed lethargic at birth, somebody decided he should be tested for drugs. How could they tell normal lethargy from abnormal lethargy? A good number of babies are lethargic after birth, which is attributed to the drugs given to women to help manage labor pain. Maybe the mom was acting stoned herself? Who knows? The baby tested positive, and the mom told them she’d been given the go-ahead for drug use by the good possibly-soon-to-be-ex-Doctor Aquino, and that he’d never asked her whether she was pregnant.
(The woman apparently didn’t mention it either, but for some reason nobody seems especially concerned about this.)
Dr. Aquino may become the first Colorado doctor to lose his license due to marijuana prescription negligence. Reactions have ranged from outrage to defense. There’s a growing body of medical professionals and other respected members of society who see marijuana as a relatively harmless drug — in general. But considering its history, associations, and the lack of extensive formal studies, it’s not likely that too many people would champion the use of this drug in pregnancy, especially when it’s not altogether clear what the drug was being prescribed FOR. Some women do use marijuana as a drug during pregnancy, most often to cope with severe morning sickness, but if there’s a doctor or midwife involved, chances are good that she’s not going down on paper as endorsing this treatment.
No, this seems like a case of mistaken identity. It calls attention to the dispensary environment, and the question of whether the attention doctors give prospective patients in this setting is reasonable. But it also calls attention to the kind of rushed, impersonal interaction that has become the unfortunate norm between doctors and patients in medical offices. How could a doctor not notice a woman was pregnant at seven months? I guess it’s possible that she could have been very small, or very large (in general). But it’s also possible that the doctor didn’t even look up.
photo: Katherine Hitt/flickr