“When other drugs have failed.”
A few months ago, television journo Dr. Nancy Snyderman used that phrase on the NBC Nightly News. Basically, she admitted that marijuana has medicinal uses–but only as a last resort. As such, viewers presumably felt reassured that she wasn’t suggesting for doctors or patients to plunge right into cannabis therapy, or to use weed if it can be avoided.
That’s where we stand with marijuana these days: even mainstream pundits like Snyderman and Sanjay Gupta acknowledge its medical benefits.
Yet marijuana remains guilty of original sin, the worst choice, the last choice. A pot pedestrian is left to gather that anything else would be preferable.
What might that something else be? For nausea from chemotherapy, it might be Marinol, a THC-based drug in pill form. The upside of Marinol is that it may be covered by insurance. The downside is that, like hash brownies, it takes an hour or more to kick in, and that’s only if you can keep the pills down with your injury or ailment.
For depression, the conventional prescription might be any of a number of antidepressants with side effects that include suicide.
For chronic pain, the conventional choice might be an opioid like Oxycontin. If “opioid” sounds kind of opium-like, that’s because it is. Oxy leaves you listless, sleepy, and dreamy in ways that go miles past stoned; plus, along with her sister opiates, she packs a sinister quality akin to heroin: the cycle of addiction. You start with a small dose, then develop a tolerance, then subsequently need a larger dose to get the same relief.
Before long, you’re robbing pharmacies, or worse.
Not only can cannabis therapy replace opioids for many patients, but even for those patients who still need opioids, cannabis can be safely used in combination with the drug in order to reduce dosage and stave off addiction. Experiments at Boston’s own Brigham and Women’s Hospital have proven this.
In short, waiting until “other drugs have failed” means setting patients up for some spectacular failures. Yet doctors across the state are still being shackled by their supervisors and prohibited from prescribing marijuana while at the same time having the greenlight to prescribe dangerous alternatives. To worsen matters, doctors brave enough to write recommendations are being castigated.
And patients are still being treated as fakers at best and criminals at worst. In a recent opinion piece for the Boston Globe, columnist Tom Keane stated as an “obvious” truth that medical marijuana is only an excuse for getting high. Meanwhile, caregivers are still prohibited from growing for more than one patient, dispensaries won’t open until after the daffodils do, and the Department of Public Health is continuing to make burdensome regulations–namely about the storage and transportation of medical marijuana–that would be more suitable safeguards for handling packages of Ebola virus.
At this rate, only full legalization will allow patients to use medical cannabis without shame or roadblocks.
Only legalization will allow doctors to prescribe cannabis as medicine, much like physicians have preferred to do since the dawn of time, but have ceased doing in the past few decades. Most importantly, legalization will allow doctors to return to a “do no harm” standard, and to reserve more dangerous drugs for when marijuana fails, rather than the other way around.
Andy Gaus is a member of MassCann’s board of directors.