OHSU eases rules on marijuana use and organ transplants

OHSU eases rules on marijuana use and organ transplants
File - In this March 28, 2011, file photo shows a marijuana plant, in Portland, Ore. Medical marijuana advocates have a message for Democratic leaders and federal prosecutors with an eye on political office: Don’t mess with pot. Pushing back against the Obama administration’s crackdown on state medical marijuana programs, one of the nation’s largest pro-pot groups is claiming credit for the defeat of a former federal prosecutor in the Democratic primary for Oregon attorney general. As interim U.S. attorney, Dwight Holton called Oregon’s medical marijuana law a “train wreck” and oversaw efforts to crack down on pot shops and marijuana gardens that claim to be operating under the state law. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Oregon Health & Science University Hospital in Portland has eased restrictions on marijuana use among people seeking organ transplants.

The state's largest organ transplant program had required six months of negative drug tests before a patient could go on the waiting list for a liver transplant.

The revised policy allows marijuana users who meet all other criteria to be waitlisted for liver transplants if a single screen turns up negative, The Oregonian newspaper reported.

The new approach also applies to kidney, pancreas and heart transplant procedures.

Doctors altered the policy after seeing potential transplant candidates who were medical marijuana patients with no obvious addiction problems, said Dr. Willscott Naugler, a liver specialist and medical director for the liver transplant program at OHSU.

"If you had a beer last weekend, no one would say you are an alcoholic," Naugler told the newspaper. "You might be. But it doesn't mean you are. We have taken the same approach to marijuana. If you had it last weekend, you may not have an abuse problem."

Only OHSU and the Portland Veterans Affairs Medical Center perform liver transplants in Oregon. The new guidelines apply to both facilities, which share a team of specialists and surgeons.

Surgeons on the team performed 60 liver transplants last year, and OHSU typically performs 20 heart, 100 kidney and eight to 14 pancreas transplants annually.

No federal guidelines or national standards apply to medical marijuana and the organ transplant screening process. Transplant programs throughout the country screen potential organ recipients for substance abuse, which can complicate a patient's recovery, to ensure organs go to those who will benefit most.

OHSU officials said the new policy isn't an endorsement of marijuana or its medicinal value. After being placed on a waiting list and after surgery, patients are still told not to use marijuana, tobacco, alcohol or illicit substances.

In Oregon, 137 people are on the waiting list for a new liver, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing, which manages the country's organ transplant system. Nationwide, 16,011 patients are on the liver transplant list. The agency says 92,853 patients in the country are on the kidney waiting list.

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Information from: The Oregonian, http://www.oregonlive.com

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press