HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Docs Should Prescribe Marijuana To Those Who Need
Pubdate: Mon, 08 Apr 2002
Source: Nelson Daily News (CN BC)
Copyright: 2002 Nelson Daily News
Author: Dr. W. Gifford Jones
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal - Canada)


I've been a medical journalist for 27 years.  It's made me a terrible 
skeptic. But for good reason.

I've seen too many distortions of the truth in medicine.  I've seen 
too many colleagues sit on the fence rather than take a stand on 
controversial issues.

I've seen too many fight the use of painkillers when they could ease 
the agony of dying cancer patients.  Above all else, I've seen too 
often a complete void of common sense.  Now I'm seeing it again, 
patients who need marijuana to ease their suffering but can't obtain 

In July 2001, the federal government legalized the use of marijuana 
for terminally ill patients and from patients suffering from cancer, 
multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injury, AIDS, severe forms of 
arthritis and epilepsy. Marijuana alleviates severe nausea, 
persistent muscle spasm and seizures associated with these diseases. 
Marijuana can also be prescribed for other diseases when conventional 
medication failed.

My initial reaction was, "Hallelujah." The government had finally 
taken a reasonable stance.  But it didn't make the purchase of 
medical marijuana easy. It's not like picking up your prescription 
from your local pharmacy.

Patients must first find a physician who will write a letter stating 
that marijuana is needed because conventional medication has failed. 
They must then write about themselves and their medical condition. 
They also have to indicate if they wish to grow their own supply or 
obtain it from a licensed dealer.  This information, along with 2 
passport-sized photographs, must be sent to Health Canada's Office of 
Cannabis Medical Access.

But it appears the government has legalized a medication it doesn't 
possess. Sources tell me Health Canada is growing some in an 
abandoned mine which won't be available for a year. In the mean time 
patients have to get their marijuana from authorized "compassion 
clubs" (there are about 20 in Canada) which also require a Doctors 
letter. And huge parts of this country are without clubs.

Even in good health this would be a tough assignment. But if you're 
nauseated or vomiting due to aids or chemotherapy, this process 
becomes a nightmare.  The first major obstacle is obtaining a 
doctor's letter.

Since first initiating a study on this problem I've been contacted by 
numerous patients who can't find a family doctor or a specialist to 
sign on the dotted line. Physicians argue more research is needed to 
test the safety of marijuana. Yet a report from the Harvard Medical 
School says "one of marijuana's greatest advantages is its remarkable 

Critics forget our so-called 'safe' drugs often cause drug reactions 
and sometimes death.

Most drugs have a list as long as your arm of possible drug 
reactions.  But to my knowledge, no one has ever died from an 
overdose of marijuana. Tests show that the ratio of marijuana needed 
to overdose to the point of intoxication is 40,000 to 1. By 
comparison, for alcohol it's 5 to 1 to 10 to 1!

Opponents always mention 'the slippery slope theory,' that people 
will go from marijuana to a variety of illegal drugs. But this is a 
legal, political and law enforcement problem, not a medical one. 
Besides, patient suffering from these diseases are seldom 'slippery 
slope customers.'

I can understand no doctor wants his office loaded with people 
seeking marijuana unjustifiably. But surely this shouldn't be a 
problem. It's easy to document which patients are receiving 
chemotherapy or suffer from multiple sclerosis or AIDS. Yet.  I could 
not find a major cancer center in Toronto or neurologist who was 
prescribing marijuana.

This issue reminds me of the battle I fought in the 1980s to get 
heroin legalized for terminal cancer patients.

The facts of its benefits were documented. But I was fought all the 
way by the Canadian Cancer Society, cancer specialists, pharmacists, 
and the RCMP. There opposition was all due to political, moral and 
religious reasons. Like marijuana, heroin was not considered a 'nice 
drug.' Yet the British had been using it for 90 years to treat cancer 
patients, women in labor, heart attacks, and burned children with 
excellent results.

I don't condone smoking marijuana for pleasure just as I'm appalled 
to see so many people still smoking tobacco.

But I can't understand how any doctor could refuse to write a letter 
for those suffering from the terrible complications of AIDS and other 
diseases when marijuana can offer comfort.

And surely there should be an easier way for patients to eventually 
obtain marijuana.

The best route, I believe, would be a doctor's prescription to be 
filled at a pharmacy.
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