Pubdate: Sat, 10 May 2014
Source: News-Item, The (PA)
Copyright: 2014 The News Item
Author: Jan Hefler, the Philadelphia Inquirer
Page: 1
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)


EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP, N.J. (MCT)- Before buying cannabis at southern 
New Jersey's only medical marijuana dispensary, patients must circle 
one of six animated faces that stare out from a clipboard.

The row of smiling, wincing, frowning, and sobbing cartoon faces is 
being used to rank the degree of pain that patients experience due to 
cancer, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, and several other conditions 
the state deems treatable by cannabis.

When the patients return to the Compassionate Care Foundation 
dispensary in Egg Harbor Township, N.J., for a refill, they again are 
handed the Wong-Baker FACES Pain Rating Scale so that the effect of 
the marijuana can be assessed.

The results so far are "absolutely dramatic," said Suzanne Miller, a 
researcher with a Ph.D. who sits on the dispensary's board of 
trustees. Miller is also a professor and the director of behavioral 
medicine at Fox Chase Cancer Center/Temple Health in Philadelphia. 
About 80 percent of the 145 CCF patients who completed the rankings 
at least twice over the last two months have charted significant 
improvement, she said.

Still being collected and analyzed, the data show that on average, 
most patients are reporting their pain levels decreased by 30 to 50 
percent, Miller said. "You usually see smaller results, about 10 
percent, or 20 percent," she said.

An author of four books and a contributor to more than 100 academic 
articles, Miller will be the lead researcher on a report she plans to 
submit to medical journals for publication possibly this fall. The 
dispensary has 600 registered patients and expects to have more data 
by that time.

On a gloomy, wet morning last week, several patients walked into the 
dispensary to purchase cannabis, which is packaged in plastic bottles 
and sold at $428 an ounce. Two patients who agreed to be interviewed 
afterward said the marijuana they bought had changed their lives. 
Three other patients who were reached by phone said it markedly eased 
their pain.

"I was addicted to Vicodin," said Gary Carnevale Sr., a multiple 
sclerosis patient from Bayville, N.J., shortly after he picked up an 
ounce of "Red Cherry Berry" marijuana from an employee behind a glass 
window at the dispensary. Carnevale, 57, a former licensed practical 
nurse, said increasing amounts of prescribed Vicodin, Oxy Contin, 
Percocet, and other narcotics did not relieve the throbbing pain 
shooting up his back and legs, and he then had to be hospitalized for 
two weeks early last year.

Carnevale was among the first patients to come to CCF, which opened 
six months ago inside a cavernous warehouse just outside Atlantic 
City. Marijuana plants are also grown at that location under special 
purple, red, blue, and yellow lights.

"I took three or four hits. I laid in bed, and I could not believe 
the pain slipping away," Carnevale said, recalling the first day he 
smoked it using a vaporizer. "My pain was like 10. ... But when I 
smoke marijuana, I swear it's zero," he said. While he previously 
spent most of his days in bed, he said he nowis able to function and 
even took a recent vacation with his family, including his two grandchildren.

Jacqueline Angotti, a nurse practitioner from Robbinsville, N.J., 
began sobbing when asked the effect the marijuana had on her 
9-year-old son, Miles, who had suffered multiple, daily seizures 
since he was 2. "He's been seizure-free; he's had none for the past 
31 days and has had no side effects," she said. "And he's better cognitively."

In the past, Miles was forced to wear a mask to protect his face and 
teeth from frequent falls caused by the violent seizures, she said. 
And, for the same reason, he had to eat meals from a tray while 
sitting on the floor. Angotti turned the marijuana buds into a 
tincture, which she gives to Miles in tiny doses three times a day, 
and he no longer needs his mask, she said. "He eats dinner at the 
table now," she added.

Bill Thomas, the dispensary CEO, said the frequent hugs that grateful 
patients bestow on staff and the tears he has witnessed in the 
waiting room convince him of marijuana's medical worth. "To us, this 
is medicine. To everyone else, it's something else. It's pot. ... But 
this is not Colorado," he said. His staff wear white medical jackets, 
and only patients who have a doctor's approval may buy the drug.

Those afflicted with seizures, multiple sclerosis, Crohn's disease, 
irritable bowel syndrome, and glaucoma are reporting the greatest 
benefit, Thomas said. One patient who had Crohn's disease experienced 
a "total reversal" and was able to return to work, he said.

Because there is a dearth of scientific studies, anecdotal evidence 
is practically the only proof available at this time, Thomas said. 
Marijuana's status as a federally prohibited Schedule I drug, ranking 
it more dangerous than opium, has blocked studies on its medicinal 
value, he said.

Though the federal government still considers marijuana illegal, the 
Obama administration recently announced it will not enforce the ban 
in states that have legalized it for medical and for recreational use 
except in egregious trafficking cases and when it is being marketed to minors.

New Jersey is one of 22 states that have legalized medical marijuana, 
and many others are weighing it. Its strictly regulated program calls 
for doctors to write "recommendations"- not prescriptions- 
authorizing patients to obtain cannabis. But they are not required to 
provide dosing information, leaving patients to use marijuana on a 
trial-and-error basis.

Thomas said he looks forward to having an analysis of the patient 
surveys completed and having a more detailed questionnaire for 
patients developed so that CCF can determine what doses and strains 
are most helpful for its patients. "This is the drug that needs to be 
studied," he said.

One in five patients initially told staff that they did not get 
relief by taking the cannabis they had purchased, Thomas said. But 
when the strain and dose were modified, he said, half of those 
patients reported their pain had lessened. Marijuana contains 60 
chemicals, he said, and the various strains have different ratios of 
the ingredients. CCF sells six strains and is planning an expansion next month.

Back in the dispensary waiting room, a 60-year-old Brigantine, N.J., 
woman who suffers from multiple sclerosis was busy gathering up her 
one-quarter ounce of marijuana and her umbrella as she prepared to 
head home. "I had pain every day in my feet and occasionally in my 
face," she said, declining to be named. "It's debilitating, and when 
it's in my face it's like lightning."

After baking marijuana brownies with the cannabis, she said, her pain 
improved 80 percent. "It's a valid medicine," she said. "And it is 
time it's seen that way."
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