Local Texas doctors begin signing up to prescribe medicinal marijuana oil

Local Texas doctors begin signing up to prescribe medicinal marijuana oil

AUSTIN — At least seven physicians have registered to prescribe medicinal marijuana to patients who suffer uncontrollable epileptic seizures, though advocates hope that number will grow.

“It’s not going to satisfy the need, but we’re not concerned either,” said Sindi Rosales with the Epilepsy Foundation of Central and South Texas. “I think there’s much more interest than what the seven registered doctors represent.”

Two dispensaries licensed by the state, Compassionate Cultivation in the Austin area and Cansortium Texas in Schulenburg, are already growing marijuana plants and expect to begin producing cannabidiol, or CBD oil, within the next few months.

To get the drug, patients need a prescription from certified epileptologists or neurologists.

So far, three of the registered physicians are in San Antonio, according to state records obtained by the Marijuana Policy Project and shared with the San Antonio Express-News. Four others are based in Austin, Dallas, Tyler and The Woodlands. None returned a call for comment.

Critics have warned that physicians may be wary of signing up because Texas law requires doctors to prescribe cannabidiol, instead of recommending it, a phrase other states have used to sidestep federal cannabis prohibitions. Marijuana is classified as a Schedule I drug at the federal level, alongside heroin and Ecstasy.

“It’s a surprise to me there’s so many,” said Heather Fazio, Texas political director for the Marijuana Policy Project, referring to the number of doctors who have signed up so far.

Morris Denton, CEO of Compassionate Cultivation, said it’s up to dispensing organizations to educate doctors and get more signed up.

“What I would like to see is to have several hundred doctors who are registered,” Denton said after a dedication ceremony Tuesday at the organization’s dispensary. “We have to get the word out for how physicians walk through this process.”

The state registry only recently opened to physicians, who are allowed to prescribe low-THC (the component that produces a “high”) cannabidiol to patients with intractable epilepsy.

Patient prescriptions are entered into the state’s electronic Compassionate Use Registry, which dispensing organizations can access. No entries have been made yet, Denton said.

Of the estimated 150,000 Texans who suffer from intractable epilepsy, it’s not clear how many will seek the medicinal oil once it’s available. The therapy isn’t covered by insurance, though Denton announced Tuesday he is prepared to work with advocates to find ways to subsidize the costs, which are still largely unknown.

It’s been more than two years since the Legislature approved the Texas Compassionate Use Act, which required the Department of Public Safety to license at least three dispensing organizations by September this year. Surterra Texas, also located in the Austin area, is still undergoing final review, according to DPS. The organization did not return a request for comment.

The first batch of roughly 60 plants growing at Compassionate Cultivation are about a month old and will be ready to harvest in early 2018. The plants are kept in windowless square rooms lit by powerful lamps. Patients will eventually be able to buy product in a front room of the facility, a tightly secured gray warehouse equipped with surveillance cameras that are on around the clock.

The company’s first strain is named for state Rep. Stephanie Klick, R-Fort Worth, who sponsored legislation creating the Compassionate Use Program and spoke at the ceremony Tuesday.

“Everybody is not going to respond to this medication, but those that do, it has been life-changing,” Klick said. “I am anxious for patients to have medicine in their hands.”

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