Pubdate: Thu, 28 Jun 2007
Source: Vue Weekly (CN AB)
Copyright: 2007, Vue Weekly.
Author: Connie Howard


News that medical marijuana user and activist Grant Krieger has been
sent to prison on a trafficking charge is no real surprise, but it is
profoundly disappointing. Krieger has a marijuana licence for his
multiple sclerosis (MS), and in March of this year the judge had ruled
his sentence be delayed until details around access to his medicine
behind bars was ironed out. But as of last week, Alberta's solicitor
has general turned down the judge's earlier request that Krieger have
access to marijuana while serving his sentence, even though he has
legal permission to use pot as medicine.

He'll be in agony without his medicine, and in a wheelchair because of
his pain.

A study published earlier this year in Neurology found smoked
marijuana to be a safe and effective medicine for the very
treatment-resistant kind of pain caused by damage to nerves (the kind
found in HIV and MS patients.) The biggest drawback is smoke
inhalation, one which is easily rectified with vaporization options.

So why is this still a big deal for the severe my-legs-are-on-fire
kind of pain many MS sufferers talk about? Why do activists and
compassion clubs still need to worry about prison sentences?

Not that access to government pot, in or out of prison, is anything to
cheer about, from what users and others in the know say. According to
research done by Canadians for Safe Access a few years ago, the pot
provided by Health Canada is of pretty pathetic quality. For one
thing, it's weak-three per cent tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) compared to
over 12 per cent for the samples from the Vancouver Island Compassion
Club Society, which means much more needs to be used to gain medicinal
effect. Levels of arsenic were more than double that found in
compassion club supply (a little detail that might just explain the
headaches users complain of), and while compassion club pot is grown
organically, government pot is irradiated and grown with
phosphate-based chemical fertilizers, exposing those already ill to
yet another carcinogen.

There are, of course, sanctioned pharmaceutical remedies for MS pain,
but they are, according to many MS patients, not anywhere near as
desirable as high quality marijuana is. Neuropathic or nerve pain, the
kind of MS pain most resistant to treatment, is often treated with
tricyclic antidepressants (a class of antidepressants now largely
replaced by newer ones). They're used for this kind of pain because
they're sedating, which means life must be put on hold, something MS
sufferers are often unwilling to do anymore than they've already had
to. Other options include muscle relaxants and antispasmodic drugs
such as baclofen (Lioresol), but baclofen affects muscle tone and
balance and comes with a risk of withdrawal symptoms that include
seizures, hallucinations, high fevers and extreme rebound spasticity
and muscle rigidity.

And there is Marinol, a synthetic form of THC that has been available
by prescription for a long time but isn't very popular with patients
either. They insist that it isn't nearly as effective or side effect
free as marijuana and is difficult to keep down when severe
chemo-induced nausea is the reason for treatment. Inhalation of
marijuana, on the other hand, provides immediate relief, and a growing
collection of scientific literature confirms that inhaled marijuana
does in fact work better and with fewer side effects.

Narcotics such as codeine and OcyContin are often used for severe pain
also, but marijuana is infinitely less addictive than these.
Long-acting formulations of OcyContin provide sustained pain relief
when properly used, but if chewed or snorted or injected, they produce
a fast and potentially lethal high, and have consequently been linked
to many deaths.

The best of the pharmaceutical option for MS pain seems to be Sativex,
a close cousin of pot. Approved by Health Canada in 2005 and applauded
by the MS society, it is an extract of cannabis compounds from the
marijuana plant, making it chemically very similar. It is sprayed
under the tongue and its medicinal effects are more rapid than those
of a pill (though not as rapid as those of inhaled cannabis). Side
effects such as dizziness are fairly common, possibly because higher
doses are used in the desperation for fast relief.

But if Sativex, which contains the chemical essence of marijuana, is
considered safe, why the tight regulation around marijuana? Maybe it
has something to do with the power of Big Pharma, with their very
marketable, very patentable and very profitable offerings of pain relief?
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