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Source: Reuters Author: Marilynn Larkin Pubdate: Thu, 29 Jan 1998 Experts Support Legalizing Medical Marijuana NEW YORK (Reuters) -- Medically approved use of marijuana can improve the well-being of "thousands of New Yorkers with serious or life-threatening medical conditions," said Richard N. Gottfried, chair of the New York State Assembly Committee on Health. He spoke Wednesday at a briefing here on the legal implications of medicinal use of marijuana sponsored by the New York State Bar Association. "I'm not saying it should be legalized or that marijuana abuse isn't a problem, only that it can have legal medical uses," explained Gottfried, who recently introduced New York State legislation to allow physician-supervised use of marijuana to treat patients with serious illnesses. Referring to Marinol -- a US Food and Drug Administration-approved drug whose active ingredient, THC, is derived from marijuana -- Gottfried noted, "if you take this artificial pill which has some stuff around the active ingredient, no problem. But if you inhale the natural form (of marijuana), the police can break down your door and cart you away. That, to me, is nuts!" Dr. Robert B. Millman, acting chair of New York Hospital's Department of Public Health, told the gathering that much anecdotal evidence supports the medical use of marijuana to relieve nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy,increase appetite and well-being in wasting syndromes, and improve quality of life in people with seizure disorders, multiple sclerosis, chronic pain, and glaucoma. However, the same psychoactive properties that make marijuana medically useful also pose a danger, especially, when the drug is used recreationally. "You can get derailed, apathetic," and lose sight of priorities -- a "terrifying syndrome, especially in young people." Further, in the past decade the potency of the drug has increased dramatically in New York City, from "1-2% maximum THC to 6-8%." This can make the difference, he said, "between being a little high and losing touch with reality." He also noted that if marijuana is not medicalized and people with chronic diseases are left to fend for themselves, they may put themselves at risk for bacterial and pulmonary illnesses from contaminated street drugs. All this argues for "medicalization, not legalization," said Gottfried. In response to a query, Millman told Reuters that medicalization would also facilitate appropriately supervised medical research into the drug's benefits and risks. The Gottfried legislation calls for a monitoring system similar to those used for other controlled substances, including state monitoring of physician certifications to prevent abuse, state monitoring of nonprofit providers of marijuana solely for medical use, and periodic review and analysis by the Health Department. Copyright © 1997 Reuters Limited.