For Patients Like Me, Marijuana is a Necessity

Jul 8, 2013

My breast can­cer diag­no­sis at age 26 was an unwel­come and at times har­row­ing expe­ri­ence. What allowed me to endure the dark­est days was the hope that my rig­or­ous treat­ment — chemother­apy, surg­eries and radio­ther­apy among them — would allow me to once again live a full and healthy life. It’s what pro­pelled me to walk back into the hos­pi­tal for more treat­ments. But then came A/C: The “A” stands for Adri­amycin, a drug neon red in color and injected via large syringes by oncol­ogy nurses; its apt nick­names are “red devil” and “red death.” That prob­a­bly should have been the red flag that I wasn’t going to escape with­out being slightly worse for wear. After each of my four biweekly infu­sions, I lay bedrid­den for four days, debil­i­tated by severe nau­sea, heart­burn and over­all dis­com­fort. I also suf­fered deep bone pain, a con­se­quence of the Neu­lasta shot given to keep my white blood cell counts up. I acutely felt all of these side effects, despite being given an intra­venous anti-nausea med­ica­tion, tak­ing anti-nausea tablets every few hours and heart­burn med­i­cine and a low-dose pre­scrip­tion nar­cotic for the bone pain. None of this pro­vided me with the relief for which I longed. Even­tu­ally, though, I was lucky enough to take a med­i­cine that did alle­vi­ate my suf­fer­ing. Not so for­tu­nate was the fact that it came in the form of a drug ille­gal under fed­eral law: cannabis. Though cannabis for med­ical pur­poses became legal in the Dis­trict (where I live) in 2010, the city-sanctioned dis­pen­saries that can sup­ply it are only now inch­ing closer to open­ing their doors. Nev­er­the­less, mar­i­juana is still banned under the Con­trolled Sub­stances Act — mean­ing it con­tin­ues to be a fed­eral crime to pos­sess or grow mar­i­juana, even in the 18 states plus the Dis­trict that per­mit it for med­i­c­i­nal pur­poses. As a Sched­ule I drug, cannabis is deemed to have no “accepted med­ical use” and to lack “safety for use under med­ical super­vi­sion.” Yet mar­i­juana was the only thing that truly quelled my stom­ach, pro­vided for rest­ful sleep and allowed me to eat and drink. I was not a cannabis smoker prior to my diag­no­sis, and I am not one now. I used it only dur­ing my chemother­apy treat­ments, which ended a few months ago. I am will­ing to go pub­lic with my expe­ri­ence because, while the tide may now be turn­ing, there remains a stigma — and many stum­bling blocks for patients who would ben­e­fit from mar­i­juana — where there should be none. Legal efforts to shift mar­i­juana to a dif­fer­ent sched­ule under the Con­trolled Sub­stances Act, thereby loos­en­ing restric­tions on access to and research on the plant, have failed. The Drug Enforce­ment Administration’s refusal to change the drug’s clas­si­fi­ca­tion because of a lack of “ade­quate and well-controlled stud­ies prov­ing effi­cacy” has been upheld. No stud­ies of the drug have met the DEA’s cri­te­ria to prove that mar­i­juana has an “accepted med­ical use.” But a com­pli­cated process hin­ders mar­i­juana stud­ies. With cannabis on Sched­ule I, inves­ti­ga­tors inter­ested in research­ing it must apply for a spe­cial license from the DEA and have their study approved by the Food and Drug Admin­is­tra­tion. To actu­ally obtain the plant, researchers must then apply for access to the National Insti­tute of Drug Abuse’s research-grade sup­ply of the drug. NIDA is known to refuse requests. When an agency whose mis­sion is to bring “the power of sci­ence to bear on drug abuse and addic­tion” is charged with reg­u­lat­ing who con­ducts research on cannabis, it’s easy to see why this is so. In a 2010 New York Times arti­cle, a spokes­woman for NIDA said that the group’s “focus is pri­mar­ily on the neg­a­tive con­se­quences of mar­i­juana use,” adding, “we gen­er­ally do not fund research focused on the poten­tial ben­e­fi­cial med­ical effects of mar­i­juana.” Promi­nent med­ical asso­ci­a­tions such as the Amer­i­can Med­ical Asso­ci­a­tion and the Amer­i­can Col­lege of Physi­cians have called for a review of marijuana’s Sched­ule I sta­tus. Oth­ers, such as the Insti­tute of Med­i­cine, have rec­og­nized cannabis’s poten­tial and deter­mined that it should be fur­ther researched. Yet, the DEA’s stance remains that “smoked mar­i­juana has not with­stood the rig­ors of sci­ence — it is not med­i­cine, and it is not safe.” I tell my story to illus­trate the con­trary: It was the safest med­i­cine I took over the course of my can­cer treat­ments. Only with fur­ther research can we bet­ter under­stand the pal­lia­tive effects of cannabis — and per­haps finally make it more acces­si­ble to the many of us who suf­fer chronic pain and dis­com­fort. For us, qual­ity of life has spe­cial mean­ing. Petrides works in an admin­is­tra­tive posi­tion at the Peace Corps. This is the sec­ond arti­cle in a series on liv­ing with can­cer. Source: Wash­ing­ton Post (DC) Author: Kathryn Petrides Pub­lished: July 8, 2013 Copy­right: 2013 Wash­ing­ton Post Com­pany Con­tact: letters@​washpost.​com Web­site: http://​www​.wash​ing​ton​post​.com/

388fefaff3nabis.jpeg 150x112 For Patients Like Me, Marijuana is a Necessity

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For Patients Like Me, Mar­i­juana is a Necessity

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