Pubdate: Sat, 08 Sep 2007
Source: New Mexican, The (Santa Fe, NM)
Copyright: 2007 The Santa Fe New Mexican
Author: Chris Goldstein and Paul Armentano
Note: Chris Goldstein is the producer of a daily podcast for the 
National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana laws, and the host 
of Active Voice Radio on KSFR/KSFQ in Santa Fe. Paul Armentano is the 
senior policy analyst for NORML in Washington, D.C.
Bookmark: (Marijuana - Medicinal)
Bookmark: (Chronic Pain)


Millions of Americans are living in pain; so many, in fact, that 
doctors now prescribe enough painkillers in a single year to medicate 
every person in the nation. According to a disturbing new study by 
the Associated Press, Americans in 2005 consumed over 90,000 
kilograms of powerful narcotic painkillers, not only codeine, 
hydrocodone and morphine, but also meperidine (Demerol) and 
oxycodone. In many cases, these drugs can be habit-forming. In some 
cases, their use can be deadly.

But what if there were a safer, cheaper, and potentially more 
effective alternative available for pain management -- one that 
greatly reduced the user's risk of dependency, and one that was 
incapable of causing a lethal overdose?

For a handful of Americans there is. That medicine is cannabis. In 12 
states, including New Mexico, patients now can use cannabis 
therapeutically under state law. Many of these patients use cannabis 
for pain relief.

Investigators at San Francisco General Hospital and the University of 
California's Pain Clinical Research Center assessed the efficacy of 
inhaled cannabis on HIV-associated sensory neuropathy. Neuropathic 
pain, colloquially known as nerve pain, affects an estimated 1 
percent of the world's population and is typically unresponsive to 
both opioids and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications.

Researchers reported that patients who smoked low-grade cannabis 
three times daily experienced, on average, a 34 percent reduction in 
pain. Assessing the use of cannabinoids as analgesics has 
demonstrated that they also can alleviate the neuropathy associated 
with multiple sclerosis, diabetes, cancer and rheumatoid arthritis. 
Canadian health regulators just approved the use of an oral cannabis 
spray for the treatment of cancer pain.

Survey data from numerous studies also indicates that medicinal pot 
users typically require fewer pharmaceutical drugs than their 
non-using counterparts. In June, investigators at Columbia University 
reported that HIV patients who used cannabis therapeutically made 
fewer requests for over-the-counter medications, such as pain 
relievers and anti-nausea drugs, than subjects administered a placebo.

Evidence also demonstrates that cannabis has an adequate safety 
profile, particularly when compared to other pain medications. For 
instance, long-term use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, 
such as ibuprofen and naproxen, is a leading cause of stomach ulcers 
and stomach bleeding, with some reports estimating that their use 
contributes to more than 100,000 hospitalizations and 16,500 deaths 
annually in the United States.

The use of narcotic painkillers such as oxycodone (OxyContin) to 
treat chronic pain also poses serious health risks, including death 
by overdose and addiction. Recently, a federal judge in Virginia 
ordered OxyContin-maker Purdue Pharma L.P. and three of its 
executives to pay more than $634 million in fines for misleading the 
public about the drug's risk of addiction.

By contrast, few users of cannabis, less than 10 percent, according 
to the National Academy of Sciences Institute of Medicine, ever 
become dependent on the drug, and no human case of fatal overdose has 
ever been attributed to cannabis.

Finally, cannabis is far less expensive to the consumer than most 
prescription painkillers. For example, Americans spent $4.7 billion 
on OxyContin between 2002 and 2004. By comparison, pain management 
with medical cannabis can cost patients as little as $40 per month, 
perhaps even less if they choose to grow their own medicine at home.

In states such as California, many medical-cannabis patients have the 
option to participate in locally sanctioned not-for-profit 
organizations which provide patients' access to medicine on a sliding 
scale based on what they can afford.

According to the American Chronic Pain Association, one in three 
Americans lives in persistent pain. Isn't it time to grant these 
patients legal access to a non-toxic alternative that can help them 
alleviate their pain and suffering?
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake