Pubdate: Mon, 19 Mar 2012
Source: Arizona Republic (Phoenix, AZ)
Copyright: 2012 The Arizona Republic
Author: Yvonne Wingett Sanchez, The Republic 


Medical marijuana is being used to relieve pain by people of all ages
and backgrounds -- including the elderly, Baby Boomers and 20- to
30-somethings, according to new data from the Arizona Department of
Health Services.

Arizonans voted in November 2010 to allow cancer patients and others
with certain debilitating illnesses to get a medical-marijuana card
with a doctor's approval. Since marijuana was legalized for medicinal
use, more than 22,200 people have received permission to smoke, eat or
otherwise ingest it to ease their ailments.

Of those, nearly three-quarters are men, and nearly 85 percent of all
patients have requested to grow their own cannabis. Officials denied
nine applications.

People ages 31 to 50 make up the largest group of patients using the
drug to counter illness, representing 40 percent of all
medical-marijuana users. Those 51 to 81 account for more than 35
percent of patients, while 18- to 30-year-olds make up about 25
percent. People younger than 18 represent less than 1 percent.

The overwhelming majority of medical-pot users reported chronic pain
as their medical condition, while muscle spasms were also high on the
list, health officials reported. Other ailments include hepatitis C,
cancer and seizures.

Geographically, medical-cannabis users mostly live in metro Phoenix
and other highly populated areas, including metro Tucson, Yavapai
County, Kingman and Lake Havasu City. Just six areas throughout the
state have no medical-pot users, the data showed, and all are on
Native American reservations.

Will Humble, director of the state's Department of Health Services,
said the data indicate the state has avoided becoming a "largely
recreational program as opposed to medical."

"The fact that we've got an older demographic tends to make me think
that we did a decent job," Humble said. "When you add up the folks
older than 41, it's well over half of the participants. That doesn't
mean there's not recreational users in that group, but as you get
older, you do tend to get more debilitating medical conditions, so I'm
encouraged by that."

Opponents of medical pot, however, are discouraged by the data.
Carolyn Short, chairwoman of Keep Arizona Drug Free, campaigned
against efforts to legalize medical pot and said the data suggests
most patients are faking or exaggerating their problems. She believes
Arizona's data indicates that nearly all patients are substance
abusers, based on research by an addiction psychiatrist who opposed
the legalization of medical marijuana in 2010.

"Do I think there are people who aren't sick who are on that list?"
she asked. "Absolutely. I think that people ought to listen to their
doctors instead of their drug dealers."

Short said marijuana should be used only if a person has a terminal
condition and doctors have exhausted all treatment and believe it is
necessary. "I don't have a problem with that," she said.
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MAP posted-by: Richard R Smith Jr.