Barbara Merrifield filled a plastic syringe with marijuana oil, golden in color, and squeezed it into some muffin batter she whipped up in a basement studio at her home in Somers Point.

She poured the batter into a mini muffin maker and let it sit for a while until the muffins were cooked and ready to eat.

The muffins are one of a dozen recipes Merrifield teaches other patients in the state’s medical marijuana program to make with the prescribed amount of cannabis they get for approved medical conditions, and she hopes they will be able to do more if program restrictions are loosened.

State leaders and health experts recently called for a review of the program to improve its efficacy and increase patient access, while state health officials consider adding 43 new conditions that would qualify someone for a medical marijuana card.

“I think everyone should have access,” said Merrifield, 54. “I’ve seen it help so many people and make such a big difference in the quality of their lives. People don’t realize all the benefits, and not enough people are educated about it.”

In January, Gov. Phil Murphy ordered a 60-day review of the state’s medical marijuana program, which encompasses five operating dispensaries and more than 11,600 patients, and said he would consider allowing home delivery, increasing the purchase limit beyond 2 ounces and expanding dispensary licenses.

Program advocates, including members of the Coalition for Medical Marijuana New Jersey, also are pushing to expand the list of accepted medical conditions to include anxiety, migraines, chronic pain related to musculoskeletal disorder, Tourette’s syndrome and others.

The state health commissioner must decide the conditions by April.

“We look at cannabis as part of the treatment, not a cure,” said Dr. Andrew Medvedovsky, who opened a New Jersey Alternative Medicine location in Linwood last summer. “Adding new conditions is necessary. There are thousands of people who will benefit, who feel that they don’t qualify right now.”

New Jersey was the 14th state in the country to legalize medical marijuana, under former Gov. Jon S. Corzine in 2010.

Patients with approved conditions such as terminal illness, post-traumatic stress disorder, seizure disorders, multiple sclerosis and others are able to purchase marijuana from dispensaries, including Compassionate Care in Egg Harbor Township, with a recommendation from an approved doctor.

While supporters say the program has helped them and others manage pain and disease, flaws have created roadblocks in the process.

“There is a lot of red tape. It’s still very much a big political game,” Medvedovsky said.

Merrifield has been enrolled in the program for three years to manage epilepsy and muscular spasticity, and has since founded South Jersey Medical Essentials, through which she teaches patients such as Amy Krier-Howley, 40, of Absecon, how they can take their medical cannabis.

Krier-Howley, who uses medical marijuana to treat a seizure disorder, said stigma surrounding participation in the program is still a huge problem. Not enough people, doctors or law enforcement are educated about the benefits, uses and legal parameters of the medical marijuana program.

“My parents worked as first responders and in the military, so I grew up thinking that if you smoked (marijuana), you would die,” Krier-Howley said. “But since I became more open to medical cannabis and joined the program, I’ve learned so much and it’s helped reduce my seizures and my ability to work.”

Merrifield’s sister Christine Cruddas, 57, of Upper Township, said she looks forward to the day the state approves an increase in the amount patients can buy. She said with more, she could better manage her psoriatic arthritis and muscle spasticity.

Since entering the program under Medvedovsky’s recommendation a year ago, Cruddas, who was a nurse for more than 30 years, said she has been able to ditch steroids, anti-depressants, sleep medications and a number of prescription opioids that have been linked to increased risk of addiction and overdose.

“I feel more like a drug addict carrying (opioid) prescriptions to the pharmacy than being in this program,” she said. “If we could grow ourselves, I could use the whole plant for several things. I could get more quality of life back.”

If additional conditions are approved and people are able to buy more at a time, program patients and doctors said the state needs to figure out how to grow more to keep up with an increase in demand.

Medvedovsky predicts as the program expands and if the federal government loosens restrictions on marijuana to allow more medical research, medical marijuana treatment will become a specialty for health-care professionals who may be able to more precisely recommend cannabis treatment.

“It’s not about getting high. It’s about getting better,” Cruddas said.

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Previously interned and reported for, The Asbury Park Press, The Boston Globe