As we approach this coming week and talk of the medical cannabis bill finally gets underway, there will be much wrangling done on the pros and cons of passing such legislation. What would it mean for the citizens of Pennsylvania?
As the parent of a medically complex child, I don't think it's a controversial bill at all. To my family it is hope where none now exists. To my son, it could, quite possibly be the key that unlocks the door to the prison of epilepsy and autism that he has lived in for 19 years.
When I first started researching cannabis for medical use, I was stunned to learn some things along the way. Among them are the facts that cannabis was used as medical treatment for 92 years in this country for my son's very condition as well as 100 other diseases. But, the most shocking thing of all to learn was this…it was taken away from us based not on science, but on propaganda and hysteria. There was zero scientific evidence presented as proof that it was dangerous or a threat to patients or society. As a matter of fact, the most stunning piece of history to me resides in the fact that the American Medical Association (AMA) urged the government to reconsider its position and to maintain access to cannabis for patients who needed it. Today, 8 decades later, we are still trying to right that wrong.
Many arguments have ensued during this fight to reinstate cannabis back into the hands of physicians and patients, some are valid and deserve consideration, however, some are outlandish and insensitive especially considering that we are talking about alleviating the suffering of people who are extremely ill and live every day with very little quality of life. I would like the chance to address some of your concerns using a patient and caregiver's perspective along with the latest research. The following are some of the concerns that you have all brought to our attention in many of our discussions. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and for giving us the opportunity to address them.
- "Why don't you wait for the FDA?" We are asking for compassionate use laws to allow patients safe access now as it typically takes 17 years for any substance to come to market through the FDA process. Quite frankly, we don't have 17 years to wait. We shouldn't have to given that compassionate medical cannabis laws are already giving many patients access in 23 other states and have been doing so safely for the last 20 years.
- "I don't want my kids having access to cannabis. If we pass a medical marijuana law it will make it easier for teenagers to get it and make it more enticing to them" Research actually shows that teenage use of cannabis decreases or stabilizes in states that have medical cannabis laws. A 2014 study published in The Journal of Adolescent Health analyzed over 11 million teenagers living in medical marijuana states and found that there was no difference in teen use before and after policy changes (Choo, et al. 2014). A 2015 NIH funded study published in Lancet Psychiatry, concurred with the 2014 study and also found no statistical increase in teen use in states with medical marijuana laws.
- Although many anti marijuana propaganda websites and organizations like to say that Colorado youth have increased their consumption of marijuana in the last few years, actual evidence points to the contrary. A 2013 Healthy Kids report from the state of Colorado shows that teen use deceased from 22% to 20% after legalization showing that Colorado teens were even below the national average.
- One more thing to consider is that marijuana laws of any kind don't prevent teen use at all. According to annual federal data gathered by the University of Michigan, 86% of teens report that it is "fairly easy" or "very easy" to get marijuana whenever they want to. Is it then ethical to withhold potential medication from patients when the vast majority of teenagers can already easily obtain it in spite of the law?
- "Marijuana is a gateway drug. It will lead to more drugs. It's highly addictive and we don't want patients becoming addicted" On the contrary, according to research, 91% do not get addicted making its addiction potential only 9%. That's much less than that of already legal substances such as alcohol (15%), caffeine (35%) and nicotine (32%). According to the Institutes of Medicine's (IOM) 1999 comprehensive study, cannabis does not meet the criteria of being a gateway drug.
- Should the addiction potential of any drug be considered as a basis of denying all patients a medication? No...if that were the case then highly addictive substances such as opiates and benzodiazepines would never be prescribed, but they are because of necessity in some instances. Opioid medication is highly addictive and has recently been shown to cause a 14-fold increase in overdose deaths, yet no one is taking them away from the patients who need them, nor should they. However, Pennsylvania needs to find a safer, less addictive option than opiates due to their use causing an epidemic of heroin addiction. Research suggests that medical cannabis could be the answer!
- A 2014 meta analysis from the University of Pennsylvania concluded that deaths from opiates decreased 25%-33% in states that offered the medicinal use of cannabis as an alternative to prescription pain pills. A November 2015 study found that opiate use decreased by 20% in medical marijuana states but only if the state allowed for the use of dispensaries. In Israel, chronic pain patients report using 44% less opiates when they use medical cannabis to control their chronic pain. These numbers are significant. These percentages represent many lives that could be saved.
- "There is not enough research", " we don't know enough about it” This is one of the biggest misconceptions of all. We know more about cannabis than we do about most of our prescription drugs, 1/3 of which, according to Yale, are approved after a single clinical trial. There are over 25,000 studies on cannabis listed in the federal medical database. They date back all the way to 1843.
- In addition, there have been hundreds of clinical trials and dozens of double blind placebo controlled studies. All have shown some degree of benefit. Oftentimes, significantly so. None have shown harm and the side effects were few and tolerable.
- Thirteen years ago, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services procured a patent (#6630507) on the cannabinoids in the plant cannabis sativa citing no less than 25 peer reviewed research studies. The research that was used to gain this patent proved that the cannabinoids in this plant are neuroprotective and can limit neurological damage caused by stroke, epilepsy, traumatic brain injury and neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's.
- As for safety, over 4 million patients worldwide are now registered medical cannabis patients and have been for the past 20 years. In that time, there has not been one death attributed to cannabis versus hundreds of thousands of deaths due to FDA approved pharmaceuticals.
As you can see, there is valid, solid research to refute some of your biggest fears about this important change in legislation. When assessing how you will vote, you will have to weigh the pros and cons. I hope that when you do so, you think about the patients more than the propaganda and the science more that the stigma. Many patients in this state are counting on you to do the right thing to help them. These patients are desperately ill and most have no more options left medically. In the end, this legislation could mean less opiate related death and addiction, less seizures, less pain, less traumatic memories from PTSD, less painful spasms for those with multiple sclerosis, less nausea and vomiting during cancer treatment, fewer people losing their eyesight to glaucoma and great relief to the terminally ill. The benefits far outweigh any perceived risk. Please vote yes to take this plant out of the hands of the legislature and back into the hands of the physicians. That's where it belongs.