When his secretary told Dr. Edward Zampella someone had called asking if he could be prescribed medical marijuana for his fibromyalgia, the neurosurgeon knew he'd need to clear the air.
Zampella, one of 15 doctors who make up Atlantic NeuroSurgical Specialists in Morris Township, .
But, even if there is a clear need for relief through the use of medical marjiuana, Zampella—in practice for more than 25 years—said it's just not as simple as making a phone call.
Besides, he doesn't have any, and doesn't know when he will.
"There's no marijuana to prescribe," Zampella said, noting that, although a limited set of doctors in the state can legally prescribe medical marijuana, growers have faced a number of hurdles thus far, including municipalities leery of marijuana farms. "It's 'not in my backyard,'" he said.
Touting its restrictions as some of the toughest in the country, medical marijuana access in New Jersey isn't as easy to get as simply asking for it. Zampella said, even if the product was readily available, one of the laws allowing distribution of marijuana for medicinal purposes states the doctor and patient must have a relationship for at least one year.
"I did this for a very specific reason," Zampella said.
That reason is the Partnership of Hope Brain Tumor Center, a group he and fellow ANS partner, Dr. Brian Beyerl, founded where the two work along with other specialists to provide multimodality care to patients with any type of brain tumor.
"Surgeons are thought of as people who just fix things," Zampella said. "For me, it's always been about trying to help patients through a difficult time."
Zampella compared the usage of medical marijuana to that of prescription pain medication, where decisions are not made lightly as to who is and isn't a candidate. He even said, in some cases, medical marijuana could carry lower risks than certain prescription pain medicines.
"When I heard about the medical marijuana application, it was a no-brainer," he said. "It's to help patients with symptoms and appropriate patients in pain management."
And, only patients who would normally be served by ANS, regardless of whether or not Zampella can prescribe medical marijuana.
"If the patient has symptoms not relieved by conventional methods–nausea, pain control, chemotherapy related," Zampella said. "But, someone with fibromyalgia would not be appropriate for me."
While he doesn't know when medical marijuana will be available to prescribe, Zampella said the flow of information from the state has recently grown rapidly, with updates coming by email on a more regular pace.
Still, he doesn't even know if—once they have the marijuana—doctors will face hurdles on the federal level, while getting approval on the state level.
As attitudes toward marijuana begin to shift, Zampella said he doesn't know if marijuana will ever be legalized, or even whether it should.
"I'm not an expert on the social aspects," he said. "I don't know if it's a 'gateway drug.' But, it has shown demonstrated relief of nausea [and other ailments].
"I've watched some of my patients suffer," Zampella said. "If there's an opportunity to provide some relief, there's no reason it shouldn't be legalized for medical use."