OK. I am going to ask for a huge mental exercise right now.
Let’s pretend that you have not been conditioned by the “drug war” mentality. Let’s ignore the 50 years of negative reinforcement from law enforcement about the drug culture. Let’s pretend that you have never seen a Cheech and Chong movie or think of street purchases as your context to marijuana.
Assume all of that (a lot to ask) and take an unbiased look at marijuana as a treatment venue.
Earlier this month there was an article in the Star Tribune about medical marijuana being allowed as a pain treatment — which started Aug. 1. There have been a lot of sign-ups — many more initial sign-ups than for any of the indicated medical reasons already in the program.
Here are some of that article’s relevant points to consider on marijuana — and remember we are trying to start without a biased viewpoint. As it, “a recent survey of patients in Minnesota’s program found that 90 percent reported some relief from the drug.” That is hard to correlate as a simple placebo effect — or wishful thinking. That is real results.
A medical marijuana patient (Cassie Traun) … “told the lawmakers, patients, law enforcement and medical experts who make up the task force that it would cost her thousands of dollars a month to buy her medicine legally, so she has returned to buying it off the street.” A legal program has much higher cost than street purchases? That is just messed up.
Most buy it for pain relief
As per the article: “Medical marijuana has been legalized in half the states now, and in most of them, it’s a booming industry. Legal medical and recreational marijuana sales topped $5.4 billion in 2015, according to an analysis by ArcView Group, which tracks the cannabis industry. In most states with cannabis programs, pain patients make up the bulk of the customer base.”
So let’s get back to our initial premise. What if we take a full, wide-eyed, unbiased examination of marijuana? Look at it without a DEA that refuses to take marijuana off the restricted list stating the ridiculous reason “because it’s illegal.” Let’s look at it without a law-enforcement history that encourages marijuana usage stereotypes and only interacts with criminal elements who only have an illegal access to the drug. Let’s look at it with the knowledge that for generations, marijuana has been in private, illegal use and few deaths have occurred directly from overdose or medical side effects. It would be nice to study that scientifically as a way to know for sure, but, of course, DEA restrictions make it costly and difficult for proper scientific experimentation.
And let’s look at the data in Colorado, where legalization has resulted in no increase in teen marijuana use, and where, since the move to legal recreational use, prices have dropped considerably and continue to do so.
A need to educate physicians
When you look at all of this information, the way we handle marijuana should, at the very least, be no different from the way we handle alcohol in societal use. And from a medical standpoint, medical marijuana needs to be much more readily available than it is now. To that end, physicians need to be educated in its use and benefits.
Why is this so important? Two words, really: opioid deaths. The growing opioid problem is getting increased attention. Several states put it in the epidemic category. And it is not just about illegal opioids; too many deaths come at the hands of simple prescription painkillers.
We hear people say we need to do something about this. But, frustratingly, the answer is right in front of us — on the street and potentially in the garden. Marijuana is, in all likelihood, a more effective answer to that opioid problem. The sparse data that we do have shows that marijuana is much less dangerous and less addictive than opioid counterparts.
Yes, marijuana, as a legal drug, should probably be heavily regulated. But Minnesota’s medical marijuana program is far too restrictive, too timid, and too costly.
Get beyond the Doritos jokes or the ’60s image of bongs and headbands and stoners. Marijuana is a real potential solution to a troubling societal problem.
Dave Mindeman, of Apple Valley, is a retired pharmacist. He is the main blogger for mnpACT!, a nonprofit dedicated to progressive issues and ideas.
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