December 4, 2009 – Wisconsin – To celebrate his 54th birthday last April 23, medical marijuana advocate Gary Storck began lobbying for the Jacki Rickert Medical Marijuana Act at the state Capital with his friend Mary Powers, a wheelchair-bound U.S. Army veteran who was fighting AIDS, Hepatitis C and several forms of cancer.

“By the summer’s end we were there weekly, and I would make a short movie each week, just a couple minutes, ‘The Mary and Gary Show’,” Storck said. “There are seven on YouTube. Mary and I hit more than 80 offices, and soon other patients joined us. Mary was often having a hard time, but she was always there waiting for me in the rotunda on lobby days. She became a familiar figure in the hallways and offices.”

Mary’s last day of lobbying was Oct. 7.

“She was using an oxygen tank,” Storck said. “I took her into (Senate Republican leader) Scott Fitzgerald’s office to show them the face of medical marijuana, after his spokesperson, Kimber Leidl, issued statements saying ‘the risks outweighed the benefits’.”

Mary Powers died in her sleep Oct. 22.

“It devastated our tight little group. Jacki (Rickert), myself and others had spoken to Mary every day,” Storck said. “We are grieving, but we know Mary is with us, and her efforts have inspired many more to pick up this cause. Her suffering was too great, and we are glad she is free. Mary was also the founder of Wisconsin Veterans for Medical Marijuana Access, and we are trying to carry on her work with another veteran.”

Storck discovered the medicinal benefits of marijuana by accident in 1972 when it relieved his congenital glaucoma. He was inspired to fight for medical marijuana in 1997 when a staph infection after his third open heart surgery almost killed him.

“As a doctor was removing the staples from the wound left in my groin by the heart lung pump, she infected me with staph,” he said. “48 hours later I was
deathly ill. I went to the ER and right into surgery. They took a lot of infected tissue out of my right groin. What followed were the worst 2 weeks of my life. I had several more surgeries, including removal of a 32-square-inch skin graft off my thigh to cover the hole in my groin. I was on the strongest antibiotics and a morphine drip. I believed I would die there in that hospital.”

On the ninth day on what he thought was his deathbed, Storck said he was visited by a “cannabis angel” with an edible. The cannabis angel returned the next day.

“By the third day, I was able to go outside and smoke a joint. And it was the best joint ever, because I knew I was going to make it out alive!” Storck said.

“And I vowed that day that I would use this extra time I was given to see that medical cannabis was finally legal in Wisconsin. It’s looking like, with a little luck and the blessings of the cannabis angels, that those efforts will soon come to fruition. But, there is still a lot of work yet, and the people of Wisconsin need to make their 80% support heard. But from a very long view, we are very close to the Promised Land.”

KEY POINTS OF THE JACKI RICKERT MEDICAL MARIJUANA ACT

The Act allows three categories of medical marijuana users:

1) cancer, glaucoma, AIDS, a positive HIV test, Crohn’s disease, a Hepatitis C virus infection, Alzheimer’s disease, Amytrophic Lateral Sclerosis, nail patella syndrome,

Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, post-traumatic stress disorder, or the treatment of these conditions;

2) a chronic or debilitating disease or medical condition, or the treatment of such a disease or condition, that causes wasting away, severe pain, severe nausea, seizures, or severe and persistent muscle spasms;

3) any other medical condition or treatment for a medical condition designated as a debilitating medical condition or treatment in rules promulgated by the Department of Health Services.

A qualifying patient may invoke the medical necessity defense if he or she acquires, possesses, cultivates, transports, or uses marijuana to alleviate the symptoms or effects of his or her debilitating medical condition or treatment.

Maximum authorized amount of marijuana: 12 marijuana plants and three ounces – approximately 85 grams – of marijuana leaves or flowers.

The bill requires DHS to establish a registry for medical users of marijuana. A person claiming to be a qualifying patient may apply for a registry identification card by submitting a signed application, accompanied by a written certification and a registration fee of not more than $150. Source.

Wisconsin Senate and Assembly consider bill this month.

December 2, 2009 – Linda Moon felt crippled by medications prescribed for her by doctors.

“For three years, I laid in bed. I was almost comatose, and couldn’t move,” she said.

One day, the 50-year-old Fond du Lac woman threw away 25 different kinds of pills and turned to marijuana to treat chronic conditions that had left her disabled.

“I was able to get food in my system. I could get out of bed and I had a personality again,” Moon said.

She is among the supporters of a state medical marijuana bill co-sponsored by state Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Madison, and Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Waunakee. If the legislation passes and is signed into law, a person with a prescription from a doctor could obtain up to three ounces of marijuana from a licensed dispensary or grow up to 12 plants at home.

The Jacki Rickert Medical Marijuana Act would cover people with cancer, AIDS, Crohn’s disease, Hepatitis C, Alzheimer’s disease, post-traumatic stress disorder and other diseases that could be labeled serious medical conditions.

In October, the Obama administration announced that the federal government will not prosecute users or distributors of medicinal marijuana as long as they follow state laws. The announcement is the latest part of a trend that has seen several states, including Minnesota, take an increased interest in the issue.

Currently, 13 states have legalized marijuana for medicinal use.

Personal stories

Teresa Shepherd of Jackson chairs the community outreach committee for the new Milwaukee chapter of NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

A gymnast and martial artist, the 34-year-old suffers from fibromyalgia, degenerative disc disease and arthritis.

“The medications I was given made me sicker than I was,” said Shepherd, mentioning Vicodin and Lyrica. “I have been unable to work for over a year now. I didn’t think there was any hope.”

Marijuana use put her back on her feet, with no side effects.

“The people coming forward — they aren’t just trying to get high,” Shepherd said. “These are intelligent people who do not want to live on disability.”

Shepherd said she goes through about an ounce and a half each month, obtained through people she most likely would not talk to otherwise in the black market.

“I’m coming forward for every fibromyalgia patient out there. I’m tired of the suffering,” she said.

Jeffrey Smith of Brillion was paralyzed from the chest down 20 years ago and lives in constant pain.

The drugs prescribed for him — Baclofen and Gabapentin — had ill effects and their dosages were life threatening, he said.

“The Gabapentin didn’t stop the pain so much as it gave me a ‘chemical lobotomy,’ made me too spaced out to speak. On the other hand, the use of cannabis hemp as a medicinal treatment has given me a greatly improved living quality. I can once again compose music, perform it and even write for two online magazines. It has given me a life that patented medication surely took away,” he said.

Pros and cons

Dr. Steve Harvey, anesthesiologist and board-certified pain physician with Aurora Health Care in Fond du Lac and Sheboygan, sees medical marijuana as playing a significant role in treating debilitating conditions caused by cancer and chronic pain.

“I think in the case of patients with nerve pain, shingles or post-shingle pain, with pain that radiates down the leg or arms, or herniated discs, it has a direct analgesic effect,” Harvey said.

Particularly useful, he said, is marijuana’s demonstrated anti-nausea effects on cancer patients.

“There are forms of cannabis available outside of smoking it. Any arrow in the quiver that is available to us can be very useful and I think that is being demonstrated in other parts of the country. Frankly, I don’t have a problem with it,” he said.

Marijuana opponent and Fond du Lac psychiatrist Dr. Darold Treffert says the push for medical marijuana is misdirected, unnecessary and holds great risk.

“I have treated patients with AODA problems, including marijuana, for over 40 years. And marijuana is not harmless. Whatever the benefits, if any, of making medical marijuana available by prescription are far outweighed by the risks of how easily in other states it has led to ‘sham clinics’ with mass diversion to street use,” he said.

In Michigan, which recently made medical marijuana available, there are 1,000 new applications per month from patients and growers, and a “cannabis college” has been established to teach students how to grow the plants most effectively. In dispensaries, the marijuana often has rather exotic, non-medicinal-sounding names.

“I sympathize, and do have compassion, for patients experiencing long term pain or other intractable problems. But the risks of diversion and all its attendant problems far outweigh the benefits of making medical marijuana (smoked) readily available, and there are other alternatives available for such circumstances without those risks,” Treffert said. “Research is under way to synthesize THC or other cannabinols that can be delivered in standardized doses in a conventional manner. I support that research. It is simply a more sensible and less dangerous way to proceed.”

Agnesian HealthCare was unable to provide a physician that would discuss the use of medical marijuana.

More views

State Rep. John Townsend said he opposes any marijuana use, and would vote against the bill.

“Under federal law, it is an illegal substance, and there may by some problems with that. Some state statutes allow medical marijuana, but my question is whether it is really being used for medical purposes — or is it recreational? And who is regulating this use? I’ve been in contact with the local medical community, and they are not in favor of it,” he said.

Disabled veteran Steve Passehl of Wittenberg broke three vertebrae during the Gulf War and has undergone 13 surgeries.

“Marijuana helps with spasms from my paralysis and neck injury. It helps me deal with chronic pain, fights my depression, and gets me to eat,” he said.

According to a story in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, House and Senate Bills (AB 554 and SB 368) define how many people can be cared for and place caps on the amount of marijuana that can be available in compassion centers, as well as allowing production and distribution facilities.

Previous bills in Wisconsin relating to the topic failed despite occasional bi-partisan support.
By Sharon Roznik. Source.

Additional Facts
WHAT’S NEXT

# A hearing on the medical marijuana bill is set for Dec. 15 in front of the Senate and Assembly health committees. Written testimony can be e-mailed to Kelly.Johnson@legis.wisconsin.gov in state Sen. Jon Erpenbach’s office. The mailing address is Room 8 South, State Capitol, P.O. Box 7882, Madison, WI 53707-7882. Erpenbach’s office will make all submitted written testimony available to all members of both committees.
# The complete bill can be read at http://www.legis.state.wi.us/2009/data/AB-554.pdf.

December 1 is World AIDS Day, an international day set aside by individuals and organizations to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS. The theme this year is “Human Rights and Access to Treatment.” Among other political and personal messages, patient advocates all over the world today will be talking to their friends, loved ones, media, and elected officials about the challenges HIV/AIDS patients face in access the health care they need. Let’s hope their voices will be heard.

The medical cannabis movement is intimately intertwined with the demand for safe access to medicine to treat the symptoms of HIV/AIDS. If it were not for the tireless crusading of men like Dennis Peron, a figurehead for medical cannabis and GLBT rights, Proposition 215 may never have been adopted. His desire to see safe and affordable access for loved ones truly changed the world.

Los Angeles medical cannabis and HIV/AIDS advocate Richard Kearns is one of many who joined Dennis in this compassionate work. Richard is a poet, prolific blogger, and outspoken advocate. He serves on the Board of Directors of one of the oldest legally organized and operated medical cannabis collectives in the Los Angeles area. He is also one of the most frequent speakers about medical cannabis before the Los Angeles City Council – something that matters as the city’s largest city struggles to adopt regulations for safe access.

Let’s not let World AIDS Day pass without honoring the commitment and sacrifices of patient advocates like Richard. More importantly, let’s take the opportunity to recognize our roots and stand in solidarity with the men, women, and trans-gendered people with HIV/AIDS who helped build the nationwide movement for safe access to medical cannabis. By Don Duncan. Source.

November 27, 2009 – Europe has yet to come up with a unified approach to medical marijuana. The Dutch will tell you it is legal to use the drug to treat certain illnesses; while the Swedish don’t recognize any medical use for cannabis at all.

“European policy is not really changing at all and I don’t think this issue is even on the European agenda. The topic is too controversial and too political,” said Catherine Sandvos, a legal expert for the Hague-based Cannabis Bureau, a Dutch national agency aimed at providing high-quality cannabis for medical purposes.

Ms. Sandvos’s native Netherlands has led Europe when it comes to legalizing medical marijuana, which it treats separately from marijuana legally available at one of Amsterdam’s famous coffee shops. The Dutch police stopped enforcing laws against marijuana in 1976 following an overall tolerance policy in the country. “It’s hard when you try to explain to outsiders that it is illegal to grow cannabis in the Netherlands, but that it is tolerated to buy it,” she says.

But those who buy the drug on the streets are not getting the quality severely ill patients would need. The Dutch government set up the Cannabis Bureau — the only institution of its kind in the continent — in September 2003.

“The state realized that so many people wanted to use cannabis, so it said ‘why not give it to them via prescription instead of them accessing the drug illegally,’ ” Ms. Sandvos added.

The Cannabis Bureau ensures that patients who have a prescription from a doctor are getting marijuana that has been tested to make sure it doesn’t contain any pesticides or bacteria. Not only does the Cannabis Bureau sell cannabis across all pharmacies in the Netherlands through a prescription, but it also distributes the drug to Italy, Finland and Germany through the Ministry of Health of each country. According to the agency’s data, it sells around 100 kilos of cannabis every year.

The situation couldn’t be more different in the U.K., where it is unlawful to self-medicate cannabis regardless of the disease people suffer from. In 2005, Barry Quayle and Reay Wales, who were both afflicted by serious and chronic conditions, found no relief in prescription drugs and turned to cannabis to alleviate their pain. But a U.K. court ruled against them.

“The whole debate in relation to the use of cannabis for medical purposes is highly politicized,” said Daniel Godden, an associate solicitor for Hodge Jones & Allen LLP in London. Those who say marijuana is relatively safe can face severe political consequences. Last month, Professor David Nutt, the British government’s chief drug adviser, was removed from his post after he said the drug was less harmful than alcohol.

Favorable views toward cannabis face opposition from some local politicians and international lobbying groups. Jorgen Sviden, director of Stockholm-based European Cities Against Drugs, which represents 261 cities in 30 countries, isn’t convinced of the drug’s medical qualities.

“In principle, we don’t have an argument against cannabis as a treatment, but we haven’t seen any scientific evidence that provides a convincing argument for its medical use,” he said. “If in the future we come across proof that cannabis is a good treatment, then this is good.”

Some initiatives have managed to stay away from the political debate, however. The U.K. happens to be home to GW Pharmaceuticals PLC, which manufactures a drug based on marijuana extract — Sativex. Although it has some ingredients that derived from the actual drug, it has been treated by the U.K.’s regulators as a medicine like any other as it doesn’t contain the psychotropic substances marijuana does. The company is preparing to launch the drug into other parts of Europe, in partnership with Germany’s Bayer AG and Spain’s Almirall SA.

GW is hoping to sell its product, which will treat the symptoms of multiple sclerosis, across all countries in Europe but has initially filed for a license in the U.K. and Spain so far. Paul Cuddon, an analyst with KBC Peel Hunt in London, says he expects the drug to win approval in both countries in the first half of 2010 and then the firm will file for individual approval in each country.

“I’m not anticipating any legal problems in the rest of Europe at all,” Mr. Cuddon added. “This is a treatment that is highly different from raw cannabis and it has undergone rigorous chemical trials.”

Other countries have tough stances, however. Ireland, for example, doesn’t recognize marijuana as a drug with medical benefits. This means that manufacturing, producing, selling or possessing cannabis is unlawful for any purpose. The Ministry of Health is the only government branch that can grant an exception, but a spokesman said it never has.

Noel McCullagh, 34, has learned this the hard way. An Irish citizen, Mr. McCullagh lives in the Netherlands, where he uses cannabis medication to treat the severe effects of his muscular dystrophy. However, Irish authorities have warned him that he will be arrested if he enters his native country in possession if cannabis-based treatment.

In Sweden, the law doesn’t recognize the cannabis to have any medical use.

Beyond the debate of marijuana’s use, Dr. Willem Scholten, of the World Health Organization, believes patients should have access to high-quality medicine. So if cannabis has medical attributions, “there needs to be a system in place to ensure that patients get their medicine without any contamination and that they get the same content every time.”

Despite the radically different approaches in Europe, some believe the continent will eventually adopt it as a medical treatment.

“I can imagine European citizens will eventually think cannabis is a good medicine and that it should be accessible to people who suffer from serious pain as a result of HIV, multiple sclerosis or other grave illnesses,” said Brendan Hughes, senior legal analyst of the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction in Lisbon. By JAVIER ESPINOZA. Source.

August 15, 2009 – Since beginning my tenure with ASA, the question I am most frequently asked is, “So, what does the research really say about the benefits of smoking marijuana?”

It’s understandable that Members of Congress, their staff, and even advocates who support medical marijuana don’t know or can’t find all the research. The results of these research trials are rarely reported by media. And, much of what is reported concerns the exaggerated harms that may be associated with smoking large amounts of marijuana by the non-medical user — which is often not the case for individuals who smoke cannabis for therapeutic purposes.

It can be difficult – but not impossible – to locate information about the safety and therapeutic value of cannabis. The unfortunate result of the federal prohibition of cannabis is limited clinical research to investigate the safety and efficacy of cannabis to control symptoms of serious and chronic illness. As noted by the American College of Physicians cannabis research is “hindered by a complicated federal approval process, limited availability of research grade marijuana, and the debate over legalization.”

So, what does the research really say?

Since 2007, the Center for Medical Cannabis Research (CMCR) has sponsored four double-blind, placebo-controlled, FDA-approved clinical trials which demonstrate that smoking cannabis (marijuana), even in low doses, effectively alleviates the neuropathy pain associated with HIV/AIDS. So there is no mistake, let me repeat that: smoking marijuana, even in low doses, effectively controls the neuropathy pain associated with HIV/AIDS. The results of these clinical trials have been reviewed and published by reputable medical journals.

In February 2007, Neurology published the results of a Phase I clinical trial which concluded smoked cannabis was well tolerated and effectively relieved chronic neuropathic pain from HIV-associated sensory neuropathy. The findings are comparable to oral drugs used for chronic neuropathic pain.
In November 2007, Anesthesiology published results of a clinical trial conducted by researchers at UCSDCenter for Pain Medicine which concluded that normal volunteers subjected to chemically induced pain which mimics neuropathy also responded to medium doses of smoked cannabis.

In June 2008, the Journal of Pain, published the results of a clinical trial conducted by researchers at UC Davis which also concluded that even low doses of smoked cannabis can be effective in managing hard-to-treat neuropathic pain. In fact, investigators found that low- and high-dose cannabis produced similar levels of pain relief, reducing the intensity of the severe nerve pain. The researchers specifically noted that cannabis not only fights pain itself but also interacts with opiate-based painkillers to increase their effectiveness, particularly in neuropathic pain. They also note that using isolated synthetic cannabinoids such as THC (dronabinol) did not provide the same degree of efficacy as a whole-plant preparation of cannabis.

In August 2008, Neuropsychopharmacology, published the results of a Phase II clinical trial conducted by researchers at UCSD School of Medicine which concluded, once again, that smoked cannabis was generally well tolerated and effective when added to concomitant analgesic therapy in patients with HIV-related neuropathy pain not adequately controlled by other pain-relievers.
Now, go spread the word!

August 8, 2009 – Melissa Etheridge took medical marijuana while undergoing chemotherapy during her fight with breast cancer. Patrick Swayze reportedly takes medicalMedical-Marijuana marijuana during his chemotherapy treatments and daily fight with pancreatic cancer. Both Etheridge and Swayze have reported immense benefits from taking medical marijuana, with Etheridge even declaring that she believes it should be legalized in all 50 states and recognized by the federal government.

Is medical marijuana all that proponents claim it to be for patients who suffer from cancer, auto-immune diseases, HIV & AIDS and other life-threatening ailments?

The answer is yes.

According to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), medical marijuana is appropriate and safe for patients to use:

“Modern research suggests that cannabis is a valuable aid in the treatment of a wide range of clinical applications…These include pain relief — particularly of neuropathic pain (pain from nerve damage) — nausea, spasticity, glaucoma, and movement disorders…Marijuana is also a powerful appetite stimulant, specifically for patients suffering from HIV, the AIDS wasting syndrome, or dementia…Emerging research suggests that marijuana’s medicinal properties may protect the body against some types of malignant tumors…and are neuroprotective.”

NORML goes on to state: “Currently, more than 60 U.S. and international health organizations support granting patients immediate legal access to medicinal marijuana under a physician’s supervision…
Marijuana is far less dangerous than alcohol or tobacco. Around 50,000 people die each year from alcohol poisoning. Similarly, more than 400,000 deaths each year are attributed to tobacco smoking. By comparison, marijuana is non-toxic and cannot cause death by overdose. According to the prestigious European medical journal, The Lancet, ‘The smoking of cannabis, even long-term, is not harmful to health. … It would be reasonable to judge cannabis as less of a threat … than alcohol or tobacco.’ ”

This reporter herself suffers from Crohn’s disease, an incurable auto-immune disease that causes inflammation and infection in the intestines, often accompanied by pain, nausea and other GI symptoms. I struggle daily with pain, nausea, and fatigue and have battled with my primary care and GI doctors for appropriate pain medication, often to no avail.

I personally believe that medical doctors who have the power to alleviate the pain and suffering of their patients and yet refuse to do so, are inhumane and medically negligent. Why were pain medications created if they were not to be utilized? A rhetorical question, perhaps…

So, is medical marijuana something that would work for me? I believe that it would, but there are a few roadblocks in my way of trying this natural pain relief.

Although California is one of 13 states that have enacted Medical Marijuana laws, these laws are not recognized by the federal government. (The 13 states with Medical Marijuana laws passed in-state are: Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington.)

This federal and state discrepancy leaves Medical Marijuana patients at risk for arrest and other legal nightmares. As a mother of two and the wife of a federal employee, these are risks that I cannot afford to take at this time. This is an infuriating situation–I have medical doctors who almost never prescribe pain relief medication and refuse to refer me to a Pain Management Doctor, and because Medical Marijuana is not federally legal, I cannot take advantage of its natural and safe pain relief.

What is a responsible patient with an incurable disease to do?

Perhaps if I was a celebrity like Melissa Etheridge or Patrick Swayze, I wouldn’t be so afraid. Until I either find more compassionate doctors or Medical Marijuana is legal and legitimate patients are not subject to arrest and prosecution, I will have to live my life in pain on an almost daily basis. Source.

July 13, 2009 – Marcy Duda, a former home health aide with four children and two granddaughters, never dreamed she’d be publicly touting the medical benefits of “pot.’’

But marijuana, says the 48-year-old Ware resident, is the only thing that even begins to tfs_mm_hollywoodogcontrol the migraine headaches that plague her nine days a month, which she describes as feeling like “hot, hot ice picks in the left side of my head.’’

Duda has always had migraines. But they got much worse 10 years ago after two operations to remove life-threatening aneurysms, weak areas in the blood vessels in her brain. None of the standard drugs her doctors prescribe help much with her post-surgical symptoms, which include nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, and pain on her left side “as if my body were cut in half.’’

With marijuana, however, “I can at least leave the dark room,’’ she says, “and it makes me eat a lot of food.’’

The culture wars over marijuana, for recreational and medical use, have been simmering for decades, with marijuana (cannabis) still classified (like heroin) as a Schedule I controlled substance by the US government, meaning it has no approved medical use. (There is a government-approved synthetic form of marijuana called Marinol available as a prescription pill for treating nausea, vomiting, and loss of appetite, though advocates of the natural stuff say it is not as effective as smoked pot.)

Some, like David Evans, special adviser to the nonprofit Drug Free America Foundation of St. Petersburg, Fla., applaud the government’s view, saying marijuana has not gone through a rigorous US Food and Drug Administration approval process.

But that skepticism frustrates leading marijuana researchers like Dr. Donald Abrams, a cancer specialist at San Francisco General Hospital.

“Every day I see people with nausea secondary to chemotherapy, depression, trouble sleeping, pain,’’ he says. “I can recommend one drug [marijuana] for all those things, as opposed to writing five different prescriptions.’’

The tide seems to be turning in favor of wider medical use of marijuana. The Obama administration announced in March that it will end the Bush administration’s practice of frequently raiding distributors of medical marijuana. Thirteen states, including Vermont, Rhode Island, and Maine, now allow medical use of marijuana, according to Bruce Mirken, spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project, which advocates legalization of pot. Last week, however, New Hampshire Governor John Lynch vetoed legislation that would have legalized medical marijuana in that state.

Research on medical marijuana is hampered by federal regulations that tightly restrict supplies for studies. But there is a growing body of studies, much of it supportive of the drug’s medical usage, though some of it cautionary. Given the intense politics involved, it’s true, as Abrams puts it, that “you can find anything you want in the medical literature about what marijuana does and doesn’t do.’’

With that in mind, here’s an overview of what the research says about the safety and effectiveness of using marijuana to treat various ailments.

Pain: Marijuana has been shown effective against various forms of severe, chronic pain. Some research suggests it helps with migraines, cluster headaches, and the pain from fibromyalgia and irritable bowel syndrome because these problems can be triggered by an underlying deficiency in the brain of naturally-occurring cannabinoids, ingredients in marijuana. Smoked pot also proved better than placebo cigarettes at relieving nerve pain in HIV patients, according to two recent studies by California researchers. Marijuana also seems to be effective against nerve pain that is resistant to opiates.

Cancer: The active ingredients in cannabis have been shown to combat pain, nausea, and loss of appetite in cancer patients, as well as block tumor growth in lab animals, according to a review article in the journal Nature in October 2003. But there’s vigorous debate about whether smoking marijuana increases cancer risk.

Some studies that have looked for a link between cancer risk and marijuana have failed to find one, including a key paper from the University of California-Los Angeles and the University of Southern California published in 2006. “We had hypothesized, based on prior laboratory evidence, including animal studies, that long-term heavy use of marijuana would increase the risk of lung and head and neck cancers,’’ said Hal Morgenstern, a coauthor and an epidemiologist at the University of Michigan School of Public Health. “But we didn’t get any evidence of that, once we controlled for confounding factors, especially cigarette smoking.’’

Research published by a French group this year and by Kaiser Permanente, a California-based HMO, in 1997 came to a similar conclusion.

But a state health agency in California, the first state to legalize marijuana for medical use in 1996, recently declared pot smoke (though not the plant itself) a carcinogen because it has some of the same harmful substances as tobacco smoke. The active ingredient in marijuana can increase the risk for Kaposi’s sarcoma, a common cancer in HIV/AIDS patients, Harvard researchers reported in the journal Cancer Research in August 2007. And British researchers reported in May 2009 in Chemical Research in Toxicology that laboratory experiments showed that pot smoke can damage DNA, suggesting it might cause cancer.

The federal government’s National Institute on Drug Abuse says that it is “not yet determined’’ whether marijuana increases the risk for lung and other cancers.

Respiratory problems: Smoking one marijuana joint has similar adverse effects on lung function as 2.5 to 5 cigarettes, according to a New Zealand study published in Thorax in July 2007. A small Australian study published in Respirology in January 2008 showed that pot smoking can lead to one type of lung disease 20 years earlier than tobacco smoking.

Addictive potential: The National Institute on Drug Abuse says “repeated use could lead to addiction,’’ adding that some heavy users experience withdrawal symptoms such as irritability and sleep loss if they stop suddenly.

Mental effects: Cannabis may increase the risk of psychotic disorders, according to a 2002 study in the American Journal of Epidemiology. And the national drug abuse agency warns that “heavy or daily use of marijuana affects the parts of the brain that control memory, attention, and learning.’’ A study of 15 heavy pot smokers published in June 2008 in the Archives of General Psychiatry showed loss of tissue in two areas of the brain, the hippocampus and amygdala, regions that are rich in receptors for marijuana and that are important for memory and emotion, respectively.

Vaporizing vs. smoking: The push now among proponents of medical marijuana is toward inhaling the vapor, not smoking. Vaporizing is a safe and effective way of getting THC, the active ingredient, into the bloodstream and does not result in inhalation of toxic carbon monoxide, as smoking does, according to a study by Abrams published in 2007 in Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics.

Bottom line: From a purely medical, not political, point of view, my take is that if I had medical problems that other medications did not help and that marijuana might, I’d try it – in vaporized form.

Just as Marcy Duda does. “You use it as you need it. You can be normal. You can function,’’ she says. “I don’t get high. I get by.’’

By Judy Foreman | Source.