by David Wallace
As I ponder back on my experience with the “evil weed” (aka – marijuana) it takes me back to my high school days or should I say daze? I partook quite regularly as a young lad and can honestly say upon reflection it may not have been the best thing for a developing mind. A car full of buddies cruising down the road in my massive blue Buick Electra 225, passing a joint, and jamming to some Doobie Brothers sure does bring back memories.
Fast forward 25+ years later, mostly abstinent from smoking pot and I was diagnosed with PV (2009). Many of my symptoms are treated by a doctor who freely writes prescriptions for anxiety, sleep issues, gout, itching and occasionally pain.
Pass the joint
I was prompted to consider partaking again after an old high school buddy called “to see if I was still alive” after the passing of two middle age friends. Ironically, this was just a few months after I was diagnosed. I informed him of my new condition, “a rare blood cancer” for the sake of simplicity and invited him to visit; he came by and offered to smoke a joint. At first I declined, mainly because I was in the early stages of a job hunt, but then I thought “what the hell, why not?” Much to my delight, we reminisced, got real silly, and found ourselves laughing about such trivial matters as the autumn leaves gently falling from the trees in the back yard. It was a pleasant “mental vacation” from the ever present thoughts of living with PV.
Ever since that day, I decided an occasional smoke was a welcome relief when I had aches and pain or felt overwhelmed by my condition (think four phlebotomies in a week or the initial fear of starting a chemo drug). While exercise is actually my first line of defense for all of the above, some days I don’t have the energy to even begin. A couple of puffs leads to almost immediate relaxation, lowers the perception of body aches, and allows the mind to freely float away from congested thoughts about living with a chronic disease.
When prescriptions don’t work
While medical professionals continue to debate the value of treating various ailments with marijuana, perhaps it is an option to consider should “prescribed” medications not meet your needs. I think this is a topic that warrants further discussion. Since one of a doctor’s duties is to treat a patient’s symptoms, why should he not have the choice of prescribing medical marijuana? Fortunately that choice does exist in 16 states and the District of Columbia and is up for decision in eight other states. While the science is often obscured by opinion, it seems morally wrong to not help someone when relief from anxiety and pain is available.
What is Marijuana?
Cannabis, also known as marijuana refers to any number of preparations of the Cannabis plant intended for use as a psychoactive drug or for medicinal purposes. According to the United Nations, cannabis “is the most widely used illicit substance in the world.” The major psychoactive chemical compound in cannabis is Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (commonly abbreviated as THC). Cannabis contains more than 400 different chemical compounds, which can result in different effects from those of THC alone.
Obstacles to medical research
Only a battery of clinical studies, conducted according to stringent scientific procedures to prove marijuana’s medicinal benefits, can persuade lawmakers, much of the medical establishment and government agencies that it belongs in the same toolkit as pharmaceuticals approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The problem is, studies are expensive, funding for marijuana studies is scarce and there are obstacles that make it difficult for researchers to get their hands on the federal stash of marijuana specifically grown for research.
Nobody wants to do studies with marijuana because it’s a thankless job,” says Dr. Donald Abrams, chief of oncology at San Francisco General Hospital who conducted several studies through the cannabis research center. “People say it’s ‘Cheech and Chong’ medicine, and no drug companies are supporting it because it’s not patentable, so what’s the point?”
Many studies, many questions
This doesn’t mean marijuana and its active ingredients haven’t been studied. The International Association for Cannabinoid Medicines’ database has compiled more than 300 studies going back to 1970. Some have attempted to calculate which methods of delivery — smoking vs. vaporization, for example — are safer and more effective. Some have looked into the negative side effects of medical marijuana use. But the bulk have been designed to determine whether the drug or synthetic versions can treat any variety of ailments, from incessant hiccups to cancer. Many of the studies have found promising results in the use of marijuana for a handful of medical conditions, but the conclusions haven’t been unanimous. The website ProCon.org, run by a nonprofit that attempts to provide unbiased educational resources on a variety of issues, tracked down 73 peer-reviewed studies conducted between 2000 and 2011. Of those, 45.2 percent concluded that marijuana has potential medical benefits; 31.51 percent were not clearly pro or con; and 23.29 percent found no benefits and/or detrimental effects, such as cognitive impairment.
Marijuana lumped in with the harder stuff
Even if funding were available, research into marijuana’s therapeutic value is hampered by its status as a Schedule I drug — those considered to have no proven medicinal benefit and a high potential for abuse. Also on the list: heroin, LSD and Quaaludes. Because marijuana is a Schedule I drug, researchers have to jump through a lot of governmental hoops to get their hands on the only legal cannabis available for scientific study. The American Medical Association and many researchers, believe marijuana should at least be considered for Schedule II status, with the likes of cocaine, Oxycodone and morphine, to loosen the reins on its availability for research.
Cannabis studies from the US government’s National Cancer Institute website: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/cam/cannabis/healthprofessional/page5 Physicians’ View on Medical Marijuana http://medicalmarijuana.procon.org/view.resource.php?resourceID=001529 State Laws (as of November 2013) The following 20 states (and D.C.) have enacted laws to legalize medical marijuana: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, D.C., Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Vermont, Rhode Island, Washington. 4 States with pending legislation to legalize Medical Marijuana include: Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania. Medical marijuana is rapidly gaining statewide acceptance while becoming a blockbuster drug with annual sales near $2 billion. Extensive research for this article yielded no direct evidence regarding possible benefits for MPN patients. It is the writer’s opinion that short term positive effects outweigh the negative regarding lack of “clinical” evidence.