The facts about medical marijuana

July 23, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
On Tuesday, Oakland made the news when residents voted to tax medical marijuana, making them the first city in the U.S. to do so. But what do we really know about medical marijuana? Dr. Leah Millheiser helps break down the pros and cons.

MEDICAL MARIJUANA USES:

- Cancer, disease-related anorexia, AIDS, chronic pain, spasticity, glaucoma, arthritis, migraine, or any other illness for which marijuana provides relief

- In California, medical marijuana is used for: 40% Chronic pain patients,?22% AIDS patients, ?15% Mood Disorder patients (23% All other categories)

- Pain relief: THC works through different receptors (cannabinoid receptors) than opioids and NSAIDS; therefore, THC may be effective in those patients with pain in whom opioids and NSAIDS don't work

- Chemotherapy-related nausea and vomiting

MEDICAL MARIJUANA REQUIREMENTS:

- Legal usage of medical marijuana requires a valid physician's recommendation

- In California, patients and their caregivers require a medical marijuana identification card

- It can only be recommended by licensed MD's, osteopaths

- Doctor cannot write a legal prescription for medical marijuana

DEBATE OVER MEDICAL MARIJUANA:

PRO: Accepted medical use in the US, benefits outweigh the risks; therefore, medical marijuana should be FDA-approved; yearly deaths from legal prescription drugs in the US would be decreased with use of medical marijuana

CON: It is not FDA-approved; it has addictive potential; there are effective FDA-approved medications available that make medical marijuana unnecessary; it is a front for drug legalization; sends the wrong message to children; people who use it are actually using for recreational reasons, not medical reasons.

MORE ABOUT MEDICAL MARIJUANA:

13 states have legalized medical marijuana:

- Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington

- removes state level penalties for possession, use, and cultivation of marijuana (Prop. 215: California Compassionate Use Act, 1996: protects both patients and their primary caregivers)

Federal law: marijuana is a schedule 1 drug (same classification as heroin or ecstasy) and possession/use/cultivation is illegal

- March 2009: US attorney general will not prosecute dispensaries operating legally in states that have legalized medical marijuana

Marijuana is a schedule 1 drug and has not been approved as safe or effective by the FDA

Marijuana is the most commonly abused illicit drug in the US

Side effects of marijuana use: distorted perceptions, impaired coordination, difficulty in thinking and problem solving, and problems with learning and memory. The impact on learning and memory can last for days or weeks after the acute effects wear off

Addictive potential: Withdrawal symptoms (irritability, sleeplessness, anxiety) begin within about 1 day following abstinence and disappear within 1 or 2 weeks

Marijuana is more carcinogenic (cancer- causing) than tobacco; however, a 2006 study did not show a link between lung cancer and marijuana use

Marijuana users have the same respiratory problems as smokers: 3-4 marijuana cig/day are as detrimental as 20 or more tobacco cigarettes/day

Chronic marijuana use affects the immune system, the brain, the respiratory system

About Dr. Leah Millheiser:
Dr. Millheiser oversees the Female Sexual Medicine Program, which is available to women of all ages in the discreet surroundings of our Stanford Hospital office. This clinic provides treatment for the following disorders: decreased libido; decreased arousal; anorgasmia; dyspareunia and vaginismus. We take a multidisciplinary approach to female sexual medicine, working in conjunction with a licensed sex therapist, pelvic floor physical therapist, as well as alternative health practitioners.


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