CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Delegate Mike Manypenny is once again introducing a bill, HB 2230, into the Legislature allowing for the medical use of marijuana. It is time for the rest of the Legislature to support this compassionate, common sense legislation.
In my 17 years as a physician, I have come to recognize that prescription drugs are not always the best option for certain medical problems. Despite all the remarkable advances in medicine over the last century, some patients find that these front-line treatments do not work or cause intolerable side effects.
My experience and examination of the evidence have brought me to the conclusion that medical marijuana should be a legal option for doctors and patients. For patients battling diseases such as multiple sclerosis, cancer, or glaucoma, or debilitating symptoms such as severe pain or severe nausea, it has been proven that medical marijuana can succeed where conventional treatments have failed.
Some fear that allowing the medical use of marijuana could have unintended negative consequences. Yet, there is no evidence to suggest that would be the case. Every objective study on marijuana has concluded that it is far less harmful than alcohol, let alone prescription drugs.
Marijuana's potential for addiction is dwarfed by that of prescription painkillers (and alcohol), and it is infinitely less toxic. Tragically, our state has the highest rate of fatal drug overdoses of any state in the U.S., and it's important to acknowledge that none of these deaths were caused by marijuana. If a patient finds that marijuana provides as much or more relief than prescription drugs, why on earth would we want to prevent them from making the safer choice?
Other concerns that have been raised about allowing the use of medical marijuana are typically centered on the fear that more teens will use marijuana as a result. Yet, this fear is unfounded, according to U.S. government surveys that measure teen marijuana use. As Dr. Seth Ammerman concluded in the winter 2011 edition of "California Pediatrician," "the data are very reassuring that in almost all cases medical marijuana legalized for adults does not lead to an increase in recreational use of marijuana by adolescents."
Then there are the critics who say that smoked marijuana is not a legitimate medicine. For many people, however, this is the most viable option. Whereas many patients are unable to keep pills down or wait long periods of time for their medicine to take effect, smoking marijuana allows the patient to get immediate relief and carefully control his or her dosage. It is important for people to understand that smoking marijuana, unlike legal tobacco, has been definitively shown not to cause cancer, emphysema, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. In fact, a recent Kaiser Foundation study showed there is no decrease in life span with decades of chronic use.
For patients who prefer to avoid smoking, there are a variety of alternative methods for consuming medical marijuana. For example, it can be taken orally in food or tinctures. It can also be vaporized, which involves heating marijuana until the compounds are released into a vapor and inhaled without the negative effects associated with smoking.
The evidence in support of allowing medical marijuana is overwhelming. The benefits are great, and the drawbacks are minimal, if they exist at all. It is time for our state to stop spending its limited resources arresting and prosecuting seriously ill people who are using marijuana in the treatment of their conditions. If you would like to see West Virginia join the growing list of states that allow medical marijuana, please let your lawmakers know. It is time to set fears aside and protect our family members and friends whose lives could be dramatically improved by the medical use of this plant.
Clancy is a physician in Spencer.