Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Time and Money Ill-spent on Medical Marijuana

This blog post can also be viewed where it was first published in the Denver Post on April 8, 2012:

I know of no one who is neutral on the issue of medical marijuana. Some claim that it is a myth. They do not believe there is anything medicinal about the use of marijuana, or if there is, it is nothing that can't be replicated by pills or shots, which are much safer and much less damaging to society. 

People may feel better, because they get intoxicated, or "high," but it does nothing positive for their medical conditions. In fact, smoking marijuana causes harm to the lungs and may lead to lung cancer. How can that be medicinal? This is the official position of the U.S. Government. In July, 2011, the U. S. Drug Enforcement Agency denied a petition to reclassify marijuana from a Schedule I controlled substance (like heroin) to a lesser schedule. In their response they stated, "Marijuana has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States."

Others claim marijuana is a magic potion that is being withheld from patients who are in severe pain and distress. Not only does it combat the pain, nausea and vomiting, poor appetite, intraocular pressure, muscle spasms and seizures of those conditions for which it has been "approved" in the Colorado Constitution, it also helps those with asthma, atherosclerosis, bipolar disease, Crohn's disease, diabetes, anxiety, hepatitis, hypertension, opiod dependence, arthritis, depression, Tourette's syndrome and post-traumatic stress disorder.

They believe it is a travesty of justice that an influential but small-minded group of puritanical government officials can keep it from those who are suffering with these debilitating conditions.

I believe that medical marijuana is at best a misalliance, and at worst is an oxymoronic name used in the manipulation of voters by the political, economic and social proponents of the legalization of marijuana. By playing on the humane sympathies of the Colorado electorate for those who are obviously debilitated by their conditions, and by claiming a medical benefit that is questionable at best, the proponents were able to weave together a constitutional amendment that aligns marijuana and medicine in a relationship that is truly a shotgun wedding. 

Nothing about the way marijuana has been studied, produced, distributed or used in any way resembles the normal pathway of an approved medication. Research on the medical benefits of marijuana is scarce, and reported studies usually include questionable methods and small populations; there is no standardization of dosage or regulation of "prescribed" amount; the "medication" is not obtained at a pharmacy with a licensed health care provider's prescription, but is grown at home or "handed out" at a dispensary to those whose names have been registered based on a physician's certification that they have a qualifying debilitating condition; and instead of taking a prescribed dosage at a prescribed periodicity, the users self-medicate to their own level of symptom relief on their own time schedule.

I believe that the time, money, and emotions that have been spent trying to wedge marijuana into a medical model have been ill-spent. There are already FDA-approved medications available that are chemically identical to the active ingredient in marijuana that have gone through the approved medical pathway to legitimacy. For numerous reasons, though, (time to response, level of response, inability to control level of response, etc.) most qualifying "patients" prefer smoking the plant to taking the medication. 

But smoking the plant, even for the relief of symptoms, falls outside of most physicians' acceptable range of appropriate medical modalities. No respectable doctor would encourage patients to start smoking cigarettes, even though there are some scientifically proven benefits, (very few, and not worth the risk), and most doctors in Colorado are reticent to encourage patients to start smoking marijuana. There's something about that "first, do no harm" mantra that seems to get wired into our DNA somewhere in our years of training.

There are clearly some individuals who deserve and get comfort from smoking marijuana. For the most part, they are those who are described in the constitutional amendment we approved in 2000. They are so severely debilitated that they require a caregiver for most of their daily needs, and they have found no relief in the available treatments or prescription medications. Most of them have diagnoses that can be objectively validated. If asked on a ballot to once again approve the use of marijuana for the relief of their symptoms, I would be sorely tempted to vote "yes." 

But the roller coaster ride on which we as a state have been, mostly for the past four years, with zealots on both sides of the issue doing their best to manipulate the legal and medical systems in their favor, and the fact that currently 94 percent of the registered medical marijuana users have been certified with only the diagnosis of "severe pain," the one qualifying condition that cannot be objectively validated, has finally made me nauseated. 

It is time for decisions about the use and legalization of marijuana to once again be made by the whole community, based on the political, economic and societal arguments for and against it, instead of continuing to hide the issue behind the white coats of medicine.

No comments:

Post a Comment