Marijuana—Medicine or Myth?

Pharmacy Times, Volume 0,0

The US Supreme Court recently"just said no" to marijuanabecoming a legallyprescribed drug in our country.This is a topic that has alwaysintrigued me, since I personallybelieve that legitimate patientsshould be able to access bona fidemedication for their problems, if itis in their best interest medicallyand no current drug exists to easetheir pain and suffering.

Of course, the question withmarijuana is whether or not themotive behind those that aresinging the praises of its medicinalvalue is to ultimately allow it tobecome more easily available fortheir own personal desire to "gethigh." There have been manylegitimate patients, however, thatclaim that smoking cannabisincreases their appetites or relievestheir pain.

Throughout my 37-plus years inlaw enforcement, I have felt that marijuana may be themost underestimated drug of addiction. There is no questionit is the most abused controlled substance that exists,with prescription drugs in a distant second place. It has alasting residual effect in the human body, and will show upon urine screens weeks, and even months, after its use in theheaviest of abusers.

I have seen many examples of people addicted to marijuana,not just casual users. One recent experience my taskforce had was with a married couple who was growing marijuanaoutdoors on their farm—several pounds of it everyyear. Although they both held down good jobs, they toldmy investigators that they smoke marijuana literally fromthe time they get home every day until they go to bed—usually a 6-to 7-hour stint—and this was a 365-day-a-yearoccurrence.

I also have made it a point to query the many health professionalsI have had the pleasure of meeting over the yearsabout their opinion of the legitimacy of marijuana as apotential prescription drug. Marinol (dronabinol) is citedby many of these unofficial survey-takers as a superior substitutefor the actual plant. They also mentioned the factthat they could never approve of adrug that you must inhale aspotentially deadly smoke intoyour lungs. The vast majority ofhealth professionals I have spokento about this issue are decidedlyagainst legalizing marijuana formedical purposes.

One dissenting professionalresponse was from a physicianwho said he was not concernedabout the smoking issue, since thepatients he would prescribe marijuanafor were terminal anyway,and were not going to die due tothe complications of smoking.Besides, he added, people could consumethe hallucinogen by bakingit in brownies, without inhalingthe dangerous smoke. Anotheropinion from a pain managementphysician was that many of thesecurrent medical marijuana userswere patients who were notreceiving proper pain relief thatcould be accomplished through adequate prescription painmedication.

One thing that has been decided for now is that marijuanawill not become a legal substance any time soon. Statelaws allowing for marijuana use cannot override federal law,making their local legislations null and void. This is a blowfor the many people who want to smoke marijuana just toget high, and for those who legitimately feel that marijuanais the only substance that can make their illness bearable.

Although the debate rages on with the pros and cons ofmarijuana use for medical purposes, pharmacists will nothave to deal with the potential abuse issue of dispensing it topatients. Meanwhile, I plan to continue exploring this issuethrough my unofficial survey of health professionals andpatients, and I am always interested in other professionalopinions as well.

John Burke, director of the Warren County, Ohio, drugtask force and retired commander of the CincinnatiPolice Pharmaceutical Diversion Squad, is a 32-year veteranof law enforcement. For information, he can bereached by e-mail at burke@choice.net, via the Web sitewww.rxdiversion.com, or by phone at 513-336-0070.