Hospice Service Offers Medical-Marijuana Help for Patients

Legally obtaining and using marijuana just got easier for patients of one Valley-based home-hospice service.

Starting this month, Comprehensive Hospice and Palliative Care offers an in-house doctor who will recommend cannabis for patients who qualify under state law.

See also: -Arizona Medical-Marijuana Card Discount by State Proposed for Seniors and Veterans

To avoid trouble with Medicare, which often pays the hospice's bills for patients, the hospice requires the patient or someone else to send the recommendation to the state Department of Health Services for final approval, and to pay the fees.

The hospice provides services such as medical care and counseling in the homes of terminally ill patients, most of whom are expected to live for six months or less. It has about 140 clients now.

"We fix it so people can enjoy their time while they're still here on the planet," says Charlotte Igo, the company's CEO.

About 10 percent of the patients enrolled immediately in the state program after obtaining a recommendation from one of the firm's three on-staff physicians, Margaret King. Another 10 percent say they're interested, Igo says.

The 2010 Arizona Medical Marijuana Act allows people with chronic and severe pain, cancer, muscle spasms and other ailments to legally use marijuana under the program. Most of the state's 50,000 or so legal marijuana users qualified for pain only, implying that many are "recreational" users of the drug. But who would argue that a hospice patient shouldn't have the right to legally use pot?

Dr. King will monitor the patients to help avoid any adverse effects. Not that there should be any.

While studies show that as many as 10 percent of the people who try marijuana may become regular users, that's not a problem for hospice patients, says Igo.

As part of the hospice's program, cannabis users are being asked to keep a diary in which they describe what their pain is like, how marijuana helps, and how they ingest it.

The hospice has partnered with professionals at several local dispensaries for help on getting patients the right strains for their individual maladies, and with various consumption methods, she says.

If the last wish of dying men or women is to experience marijuana, Arizona -- and at least one hospice -- will grant it.

Got a tip? Send it to: Ray Stern.

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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.