English 102/Lesson 11
2 February 2015Mainstream America Should be More Open- Minded to the Use of Medical Marijuana
For thousands of years, marijuana was used to treat many different ailments. The use of marijuana was completely legal in the United States until 1937. The 1960's were hailed as the turning point for marijuana; "Sex, drugs and rock and roll", marijuana was now used for purposes other than medicinal. The people of the 1960's just wanted to get "high" and America has had difficulties getting beyond this perception of marijuana. Fast forward to today, 2015, and the social stigma still remains with marijuana, "potheads" and "pathetic losers", are just a few names associated with marijuana smokers. It is important for mainstream America to become educated about the medicinal use of cannabis and the beneficial properties that the plant has. We must reconsider the social stigma associated with the plant so that we can move forward and realize those beneficial properties. Education is the first step towards changing America's attitude towards medicinal marijuana. One needs to realize the benefits of cannabis and the comparison to the traditional narcotic prescriptions prior to taking a stance.
Prescription narcotics are socially accepted but yet have more risks to the mind and body than cannabis. Pharmaceutical related deaths in the USA are at a staggering 38,289. Opioids have a tremendous addiction potential and are often times chosen as the means to commit suicide. Accidental overdose of opioids can cause respiratory depression, which leads to death. In comparing prescription narcotics to cannabis, there are no documented cases of marijuana overdoses. Interestingly, the number of opioid death rates has decreased recently, as reported by Bachhuber, M.D, "States with medical marijuana laws had a 24.8 percent lower average annual opioid overdose death rate compared to states without such laws. In 2010, that translated to about 1,729 fewer deaths than expected. The years after implementation of medical marijuana laws also were associated with lower overdose death rates that generally got stronger over time" (Bachhuber). These are tremendous numbers that show that medicinal marijuana legalization is a step in the right direction towards decreasing our overdose death rates. For the people whom are concerned about the respiratory damage caused by inhaling marijuana smoke, it is important to note that marijuana can now be ingested orally by adding to food products such as brownies, suckers, cookies, etc. This type of marijuana ingestion decreases the harmful effects of smoking cannabis.
Prescription narcotics are prescribed very frequently by physicians even in the cases of kidney disease. Physicians are relying on the patient's to take the medications as prescribed but for the patient who suffers from pain, often times, dose compliancy becomes forgotten. This is of concern because opioids have the potential to cause toxicity in people that already have kidney conditions, "These include morphine, diamorphine and codeine derivatives which produce toxic metabolites which accumulate in renal failure. Studies report profound respiratory depression and narcosis when renal patients are given these opioids" (Opiate Toxicity). Contrarily, cannabis can be given to patients that have kidney disease and liver disease, as it is not metabolized in the kidneys like opioids are.
Drug interaction is another major concern of pharmacists and physicians due to the frequent interaction between alcohol and opioids. As stated by Anthony Tommasello, "There is a possible lethal interaction between alcohol and opioids", he goes on to say, "Alcohol increases the risk of adverse effects and CNS depression" (Tommasello). Despite the risks, many chronic pain sufferers knowingly choose to combine the two chemicals for the added effect of pain relief and intoxication. So, as evidenced by my paper, opioids have many unfavorable properties that cannabis does not have and yet the stigma remains in regards to marijuana usage.
It is important to note that "Mainstream America" has minimal exposure to terminal illnesses, chronic pain conditions, seizure disorders, nervous system disorders, nor muscular dystrophy so therefore my goal is to offer the exposure to these conditions by means of this essay. These conditions, although so different from one another, have shared the same benefits from medicinal marijuana. As stated by Igor Grant, MD from the Research Center at University of California:
To date, four CMCR-funded studies have demonstrated that cannabis has analgesic effects in pain conditions secondary to injury (e.g. spinal cord injury) or disease (e.g. HIV disease, HIV drug therapy) of the nervous system. This result is particularly important because three of these CMCR studies utilized cannabis as an add-on treatment for patients who were not receiving adequate benefit from a wide range of standard pain-relieving medications. This suggests that cannabis may provide a treatment option for those individuals who do not respond or respond inadequately to currently available therapies. The efficacy of cannabis in treatment-refractory patients also may suggest a novel mechanism of action not fully exploited by current therapies. In addition to nerve pain, CMCR has also supported a study on muscle spasticity in Multiple Sclerosis (MS). Such spasticity can be painful and disabling, and some patients do not benefit optimally from existing treatments. The results of the CMCR study suggest that cannabis reduces MS spasticity, at least in the short term, beyond the benefit available from usual medical care.
As stated, cannabis is an important option that is available to mainstream America and many will find benefits not seen with the traditional prescription narcotics. This study, in itself, should be enough to make Americans's reconsider the stigma in regards to marijuana use and open their minds to legalization of the plant. But, for those people in society that require additional evidence, I would like to introduce a testimony by Angie Weaver. Angie's daughter suffers from Dravet Syndrome, which is a devastating seizure disorder that is traditionally unresponsive to traditional anti-epileptic medications. Angie states that at the age of 18 months old, her daughter Amelia, caught the flu and had a seizure in the pediatrician's office and explains how scary it was to watch her daughter seize. Amelia did not have another seizure for a full-year, and by this time she was now two and half years old. Angie explains that the next four months were spent in and out of three different hospitals searching for relief from the seizures. "Amelia was on a combination of a special diet and two anti-epileptic medications and was only seizure free for a very short period of time" (Testimonials). By the age of six, Amelia had been on 23 different anti-epileptic medications and has had over 1000 seizures. At this point, Angie and her husband both started researching Dravet Syndrome and were amazed to read success stories from the use of medicinal marijuana in treating this condition. Desperate to help their child, they were forced to move out their home state of Minnesota, and instead move to a state where medicinal marijuana was legal. Angie and her husband are just two loving parents desperate and willing to do anything they can for their daughter, as most parents would do the same thing but should they have to uplift their lives in order to do it? I blame the lack of knowledge and continued social stigma associated with marijuana!
Let me also introduce Tim Majerus and his testimony to witnessing the benefits of medicinal marijuana while working in a hospice facility. Tim reports that he first came face to face with the benefits of medical marijuana last year. Tim speaks of terminally ill patients who were forced to violate the law and use marijuana in order to help with the end-of-life coping, pain and other ailments. What Tim noticed most was that the patients who used the marijuana seem to be less nauseous and have a greater appetite. "They also seemed to be more at ease with their end of life anxieties and he also stated these patients did not exhibit signs of withdrawals or cravings, as seen in the patients that consumed the prescription narcotics" (Testimonials). It is important to note that Tim Majerus is a Pastor and therefore his testimony is of greater value because his profession would not normally allow for the usage of marijuana but Tim's observation was so compelling that he felt it is necessary to speak up for the patients that have benefited from marijuana.
My final testimony comes from Patrick McClellan. Patrick suffers from Muscular Dystrophy and therefore has frequent muscle spasms and chronic pain. Patrick speaks of bouts of severe muscle spasms that occur intermittently. He describes the attacks as debilitating. He is unable to walk, eat, use the bathroom, or even use a phone to dial 911. He states one attack lasted for 2 ˝ hours where he was trapped between the wall and his bed until his wife came home. He speaks of how in 2010 he decided to do an experiment to discover if cannabis could help relieve those intermittent attacks. He states that cannabis was effective 100% of the time during his experimentation and that his other prescription medication was only effective 70% of the time. Patrick McClellan is pleading for the legalization of marijuana in his hometown of Minnesota. As he states, " I am 46 years old and hopefully have a lot more life to live. I should be able to do whatever is necessary to improve the quality of my life, without becoming a criminal in the process" (Testimonial). For Patrick, the legalization of marijuana would be a life-changing experience for him.
The Arizona Medical Marijuana Initiative, also known as Proposition 203, allows residents of the state of Arizona with specific medical conditions to be treated with marijuana for personal use. This proposition, approved in 2010, allows qualified people to purchase medicinal marijuana from specific, closely watched clinics, known as "dispensaries". These dispensaries are very "high tech" and are able to formulate marijuana specific to the customer's symptoms. For example, Phoenix Arizona is home to a dispensary named Nature's Medicine. In viewing their website, I noticed that they have topical marijuana like lotions, shampoos, conditioners and tinctures. They also have edible items like brownies, ice pops, chocolate bars, cherry tarts, nut clusters, etc. In clicking their "blog" tab, I learned much more about this dispensary. "Find a good dispensary patient service provider to plug you into the right strain and method of consumption for your specific medical condition. You'll find that some dispensaries have pretty young faces that just want to sell you pot, while others that hire people who understand the medical value of the strings we carry, and we match our strength to the symptom relief sought out by the patient" (Natures Medicine). The blog goes on to describe medicinal marijuana and how there are two basic families; Indicas and Sativas, and then there are strains that are hybrids of Indicas and Sativas. Sativas is a marijuana strain that gives more energy and clearer mind, so it is meant for daytime use. Indicas is very popular for nighttime use because it relaxes and it is a very effective sleep aid. Customers must be very upfront and honest about the current condition so that the right formulary can be produced for their specific needs.
Marijuana produced in dispensaries is 12 to 24% stronger than normal pot. Because of their strong nature, today's sophisticated hybrid strains require just one or two hits to produce medical benefits. One or two hit are the same as one or two prescription narcotics as far as benefited results, without the potential for kidney damage that the prescription narcotics have. Per Sanjay Gupta, Chief Medical Correspondent agrees that "cannabis does not have a high potential for abuse. No degree of marijuana has ever had any effect on mortality so it is a nonlethal substance." (Gupta) Dr. Gupta goes on to compare quitting marijuana is equal to "quitting coffee". This is not the same for prescription narcotics! Physical withdrawal symptoms are one of the main reasons people continue their prescription narcotic usage. Users have reported symptoms of sweating, bone and muscle pain, insomnia, vomiting and nausea, diarrhea, depression and even seizures. Many chronic prescription narcotic users would rather quit but because of these debilitating withdrawal symptoms they find it easier to just continue taking the medications. For many, they then become desperate to get more medication and find themselves stealing medications, selling medications for money, forging prescriptions, lying to their physicians in order to get another prescription and even downplaying their usage to their family members and physicians. Deception is very common for prescription drug abusers, as well as denial, and this often times lands them in marital problems, family problems and even sometimes jail.
In closing, we have come a long way since the 1960s in regards to marijuana production. Although the social stigmas still exist, it is important for mainstream America to realize that marijuana has beneficial properties beyond just getting "high". Marijuana has brought relief for many people that had yet to find it with traditional prescription narcotics. Marijuana is a natural plant that has fewer withdrawal symptoms than prescription narcotics and is also less damaging to the body and brain then opioids.
Education is the first step towards releasing the stigma so that we can continue, as a nation, and accept the beneficial properties of medical marijuana. Research has showed the benefits, I have documented them, and now it is up to mainstream America to accept them, so that patients can benefit from a better quality of life. Mainstream America... I urge you to be more open-minded towards the use of cannabis.
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