Prescription for Pot?

Prescription for Pot?
Posted by CN Staff on April 18, 2005 at 06:35:34 PT
By Carla Crowder, News Staff Writer
Source: Birmingham News
Alabama -- At its worst, Laura Campbell's pain wakes her up at night. She rocks or paces the floor. In the mornings she might vomit. "It's hard to think, hard to think straight. You're just going through the motions," said Campbell, 32, who lives outside Cullman. "I'm almost animalistic, because of the pain." As men will do, her husband tries to fix it. Her monstrous combination of fibromyalgia and spinal arthritis makes quelling her pain almost impossible. "Except, if we have the money, he can go out and buy an illegal substance," Campbell said, weary frustration in her voice.
What Campbell says helps her most is marijuana. For a tee-totaling North Alabama Baptist, it's been a lot for her to reckon with. Yet she has decided to go public with her condition and her clandestine self-medication in hopes that marijuana will become legal for specific medical purposes if enough patients and doctors speak out. A bill introduced this legislative session would allow doctors to prescribe marijuana to patients suffering with fibromyalgia and other conditions such as glaucoma, HIV and cancer. The drug would remain illegal for everyone else. Some physicians support it, saying marijuana is safer and more effective on certain patients than conventional drugs. They say legal painkillers such as Lortab, Xanax and Oxycotin are stronger and more addictive. Other doctors say the risk of sending the wrong message to young people outweighs any benefit of marijuana. "If the medical community makes a statement that this should be used to treat a certain illness, then that gives credibility to a drug which is mind-altering and would be abused," said Dr. Marsha Raulerson, a Brewton pediatrician and president of the Alabama Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. For patients such as Campbell, whose symptoms do not lessen with prescription medicines, marijuana is already credible, legal or not. Fibromyalgia, a chronic pain illness, is characterized by musculoskeletal aches, pain and stiffness, fatigue and sleep disturbances, according to the National Fibromyalgia Association. Campbell's arthritis is a genetic condition, and the swelling in her spine causes pain all over. The most common conventional medicines used to treat this kind of severe pain are morphine-or codeine-based, and Campbell says both give her side effects such as vomiting and diarrhea. She believes she's allergic to them. Also, "If I take a pill, I'm hallucinating. I'm Lucy in the sky with diamonds," she said. With marijuana, she can smoke a "tiny bit," put it down, wait five minutes and if it doesn't work, she can take a little more. "I never get high, and that's very important," she said.  Its Other Uses:Besides acting as an analgesic for chronic-pain patients, marijuana is used as an appetite stimulant and anti-nausea drug. Doctors believe it works in the part of the brain that controls hunger and nausea. But they don't understand the precise biochemistry, said Dr. Amos Bailey, director of Palliative Medicine at the Birmingham VA Medical Center. Bailey also started the palliative care unit at Cooper Green Hospital, where terminal cancer patients receive hospice care. Legal drugs do not work on everyone. Doctors may try three or four medicines on a cancer patient, and that patient may still be wracked with nausea and may still lose weight, he said. "Having something such as marijuana that's part of the class of drugs you can use means you have possibilities for people who do not respond to conventional treatment," Bailey said. Bailey and his staff occasionally prescribe Marinol, a drug that is legal. It contains a synthetic from of THC, the major component of marijuana. But there are drawbacks to Marinol. It costs from $400 to $800 a month, more than triple that of common cholesterol medications or painkillers. And because Marinol comes in pills, patients cannot control the dosage as well as they can with smoked marijuana. Also, marijuana, like all herbal remedies, has other active components not replicated in the synthetic forms. "Quite frankly, this is something that patients may have already taken into their own hands," he said. "And it makes sense to me when patients tell me the Marinol helped some, but the marijuana helped more," Bailey said. He never recommends marijuana, instead he reminds patients that marijuana is illegal and they could get into trouble. But in the delicate dance between law-abiding physicians and desperately sick patients, it is understood that some patients use marijuana on their own. It can be an excellent treatment, especially for Vietnam-era veterans who are comfortable using marijuana. "If it were legal, it would make it a lot easier to have these discussions, and for selected patients, I think it would be helpful," Bailey said. "I don't think we should make people criminals if we can avoid it, particularly very sick people." Helpful for AIDS Patients: Rep. Laura Hall, D-Huntsville, who is sponsoring the bill, watched her son die from AIDS, and that's one of her motivations in trying to legalize medicine that would have given him some relief. HIV/AIDS patients use marijuana as an appetite stimulant to fight AIDS-related weight-loss in part because conventional treatments aren't very good or have undesirable side effects, said Dr. Michael Saag, a professor of medicine at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and director of its AIDS center. One, called Megace, a progesterone, stimulates the appetite, but it lowers testosterone levels, creating fatty pockets. Certain steroids that can cause weight gain also suppress the immune system. Anabolic steroids create desirable lean body mass. But they cost about $1,000 a month, Saag said. There are downsides of marijuana use - bronchitis and lung problems - but much less than in someone who is a regular cigarette smoker, Saag said. Also, some people dislike the euphoria and say it interferes with their day-to-day life, while terminally ill patients might benefit from the sense of well-being it causes in some. Saag gives other reasons to legalize this controversial drug for medical purposes. He's never known of a marijuana addict. "There's certainly a psychological dependence, but that's different than physical addiction," he said. And he's never seen a marijuana-related death, nor known of anyone to overdose on it. "I've seen them OD on alcohol, Lortab, Xanax, Valium," he said. "Marijuana should have been approved a long time ago, and I think we need to pull back and look at why it isn't," Saag said. "I think it really boils down to a traditional association of marijuana going back decades, maybe a century, where it was viewed as an abused substance, to protect young people. They didn't see it as a benefit, they only saw it as a risk, and they outlawed it," he said. "I think that's a bit anachronistic." Note: Proposed bill would legitimize marijuana use for severe pain.Source: Birmingham News, The (AL)Author: Carla Crowder, News Staff WriterPublished: Monday, April 18, 2005Copyright: 2005 The Birmingham NewsContact: Epage bhamnews.comWebsite: Articles & Web Site:Medical Marijuana Information Links Bill Introduced in State Legislature Introduces Bill for Medical Marijuana
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Comment #1 posted by FoM on April 20, 2005 at 13:25:15 PT
Related News Article from The Associated Press
Medical Marijuana Bill Likely Dead for This Legislative Session
 April 20, 2005MONTGOMERY, Ala. Legislation to legalize the use of marijuana for medical reasons is likely dead for this session of the Alabama Legislature because a House committee today decided it needed more study.But the bill's sponsor, Huntsville Representative Laura Hall, said she plans to try again next session.Hall, who said the issue is medical, not criminal, wants to allow Alabamians with chronic or persistent medical conditions, ranging from cancer to AIDS to migrane headaches, to acquire or cultivate marijuana under a doctor's direction.Hall's bill provides that if a patient couldn't acquire or grow the marijuana, then the primary caregivers could.One legislator said Alabama shouldn't pass any legislation until the U-S Supreme Court rules on the U-S attorney general's legal challenge to California's medical marijuana law. The high court heard arguments last November.Copyright 2005 Associated Press
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