Monday, February 7, 2011

A Toke a Day Keeps the Doctor Away

A Case for Medical Marijuana

Alone in her Birmingham, England home, a woman stirs a half teaspoon of cannabis into her hot tea. By seeking relief from pain and spasms caused by multiple sclerosis in this way she is, in the eyes of the law, a criminal.

She doesn't take this action lightly and is not out for a recreational high. She simply wants a reprieve from the relentless pain that plagues her and, after sipping her tea, generally experiences about three hours of relief. Only those who live in chronic pain can fully understand her anguish.

Speaking of her predicament she says, "I want politicians to be nice to me... I'm sick." One cannot put it more simply than that. (You can read the rest of her story and view the heartbreaking video on BBC News.)

Medical marijuana enjoys legal status in many parts of the world, where it is recognized as an effective treatment for chronic pain or nausea caused by conditions like multiple sclerosis, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, arthritis, and cancer. Canada, Chile, and the Netherlands have decriminalized or legalized it, and Australia and Belgium are conducting trials on its benefits.

Patients report that use of medical marijuana provides relief from spasticity, nerve pain, tremors, sleeping disorders, nausea, and depression, greatly improving quality of life.

In the United States and some other countries, social stigma and stereotypes twist the issue into a moral argument rather than a purely medical one.

Ironically, if you watch television for a few hours, you'll be bombarded with ads for powerful prescription medications with lengthy lists of potential side-effects up to and including death, but they are perfectly legal... and encouraged.

The side-effects associated with cannabis are mild in comparison. Long-term smoking of marijuana has some of the same negative effects as smoking tobacco (a legal substance) and is associated with some short-term cognitive problems. For those living life in chronic pain, it is a fair trade for improved quality of life. It is a very personal decision, one that should not be criminal.

In the U.S., some states allow use of medical marijuana with a doctor's approval, while others have pending legislation.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration insists that legal medical marijuana already exists: "A pharmaceutical product, Marinol, is widely available through prescription. It comes in
 the form of a pill and is also being studied by researchers for suitability via other delivery methods, such as an inhaler or patch. The active ingredient of Marinol is synthetic THC, which has been found to relieve the nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy for cancer patients and to assist with loss of appetite with AIDS patients."

According
to some patients who have tried Marinol, it is much more expensive than traditional marijuana and does not effectively relieve their symptoms. "If I smoke a joint, the tremors go away most times before the joint is gone," says one man with multiple sclerosis. "It makes my life a little easier." Marinol, by contrast, "didn't really do much of anything for me," he said.

It is time for the United States let go of antiquated notions of marijuana and recognize its legitimate medical use. Stop penalizing the ill.

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