Reefer Madness

 

You may scratch you head and wonder what Florida legislators were smoking when they passed certain bills. One of those pieces of legislation would undoubtedly be the bill that has been the talk of Florida’s 2019 regular legislative session; it addresses what the legislators’ constituents are allowed to smoke. And what, pray tell, is that? Marijuana!

On Monday Gov. DeSantis  signed into law a bill repealing the ban on smokable medical pot. What (reefer) madness is this? Remain calm. As a result of this legislation, Mary Jane (a slang term for marijuana) will not be freely available for any Mary or Jane to smoke. Recreational use of marijuana has not been given the green light. Admittedly, marijuana is commonly known as a recreational drug, but all that has been approved by this new Florida law is the use of MEDICAL marijuana in smokable form here in the Sunshine State.

And why was this law necessary? Good question. Back in 2016, Florida voters overwhelmingly (71%) passed a constitutional amendment approving the use of medical marijuana. Nevertheless, a 2017 law which aimed at carrying out the amendment banned the use of medical marijuana in smoking form. As a result of this law, the state of Florida was sued; the lawsuit alleged that the law contravened the express will of the voters in passing the constitutional amendment. Unsurprisingly a circuit court judge found the law to be unconstitutional. The State of Florida, being a good steward of its citizens’ money (NOTE: sarcasm font in use), took the decision up on appeal.

What’s the big deal about the form of marijuana being used? If a patient is medically approved to use marijuana, can’t he just take it in pill form rather than smokes a reefer (a slang term for a marijuana cigarette)? Arguments have been made that, since marijuana smoke contains some of the same elements as tobacco smoke, smoking pot may be harmful to your lungs. According to a May 2018 post by Angela Morrow, R.N.,  burning marijuana leaves and buds can produce 50% to 70% more carcinogens than tobacco cigarettes. Holy smoke!

While the argument that smoking marijuana is unhealthy for your lungs might hold water for healthy patients, somehow I doubt that a terminally ill patient will be concerned about long-term hazardous effects of smoke on his lungs. He’s going to be dead before the condition of his lungs becomes an issue. And, even if hazardous smoke is a side effect, there isn’t a medicine out there that doesn’t have some side effects. Just read the warnings inside the packaging of the medicine you legally purchased at a reputable pharmacy. (Hint: It’s that folded up paper inside the packaging that gives critical health warnings in microscopic print.)

Key to understanding the smokable pot situation is that it is MEDICAL marijuana which has been approved by the Florida legislators. Medical marijuana is a physician-prescribed treatment which uses marijuana obtained from a legal (approved) vendor. Peter Patient is not going to be buying joints (dried cannabis in rolling paper) from Dan Dealer on the street corner.

The medicinal use of medical marijuana is now legal in a growing number of states. To no one’s surprise, California was the first state to legalize medical marijuana in 1996. Thirty-three states and the District of Columbia have sanctioned the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes.

Using marijuana medically is an example of there being nothing new under the sun. Long before the plant’s medicinal use here in the U.S., other civilizations used it in that manner. In fact, marijuana has been used as a medicine for thousands of years. For example, cannabis is one of the fifty fundamental herbs in traditional Chinese medicine.

Despite its long history of medicinal use, marijuana has not been approved by the FDA. It is classified as a Class I drug meaning that it is deemed of no medicinal value. The possible risks of marijuana use have thus not been assessed in clinical trials because of this classification. Therefore, claims that pot’s chronic use might lead to addiction and impairment to attention and memory have not been the subject of government studies; these claims, as a result, have neither been substantiated nor debunked.

Why use marijuana at all? Well, the short answer is “because it works.” The mind-altering ingredient marijuana contains is THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol for you chemistry buffs). THC stimulates cannabinoid receptors in the brain resulting in reduced pain and increased appetite. Marijuana can reduce nausea during chemotherapy, improve appetite in people with HIV/AIDS, and reduce chronic pain and muscle spasms.

Medical marijuana is used to relieve symptoms only; it’s use is not to treat or cure the underlying disease. So, assuming marijuana may be beneficial in relieving negative symptoms in patients, must it be smoked in order to get relief? There are several methods for using cannabis including smoking it, eating it in baked goods or edible items, taking it orally in a synthetic pill form (the “little yellow pill”), and rubbing it on in a cream form. According to Kevin R. Murray, R.N./B.S.N./O.C.N., a clinical cancer research nurse at NIH (a/k/a my Baby Boy!), smoking marijuana allows the marijuana to go immediately into the bloodstream. It is diffused from the lungs directly into the bloodstream. Other methods of use take much longer to achieve results. I imagine that patients in horrible pain are looking for quick relief and might prefer the smoking method for that reason even if carcinogenic smoke is involved.

A benefit of the new Florida law is that restrictions on the use of smokable pot have been put in place. Medical marijuana may not be smoked in a public place or in a private business subject to Florida’s cigarette smoking ban. The medical marijuana must be purchased from a state authorized vendors, so there is control over the quality and content of the product. (You don’t know WHAT you are getting in a purchase off the street.) Patients may only have a certain amount of marijuana in their possession at any one time, and they may not purchase over a certain amount during a set time period. Minors may only smoke medical marijuana if they are terminally ill and two separate doctors, one who must be a pediatrician, say that it is the most effective treatment.

So, while it may be a mad, mad world out there, reefer madness, at least when it comes to medical marijuana, is not occurring. Florida legislators have merely authorized the use of marijuana in smokable form for patients who have had this form of treatment prescribed by their doctor. While this system may not be perfect, no system is. At least the system as allowed under the new Florida law is compassionate towards those in great pain. Forget reefer madness. Isn’t it a worse madness to deny reefers where needed to relieve such suffering?

Just WONDER-ing: Does allowing marijuana to be smoked for medicinal purposes put Florida on the slippery slope to authorizing its recreational use? If you were in great pain, would you be willing to smoke medical marijuana if it would relieve your suffering? Would you be more confident smoking pot purchased from a dealer on the street or from a state-approved vendor?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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