THERAPEUTIC USE OF CANNABIS (MARIJUANA)
Seriously ill individuals are currently denied any legal access to cannabis (marijuana). Health care professionals in Virginia are not legally able to provide patients with safe, well-informed help in obtaining needed medicine.
Cannabis has a wide margin of safety for use under medical supervision and cannot cause lethal reactions. Rationally considered, cannabis is far less toxic and far safer than many routinely prescribed and over-the-counter medicines currently used today. Cannabis has been found to be effective in a) reducing intraocular pressure in glaucoma, thus preventing blindness, b) reducing nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy, c) stimulating the appetite for persons living with AIDS and suffering from the wasting syndrome, d) controlling spasticity associated with spinal cord injuries and multiple sclerosis, e) easing the pain for many chronic pain sufferers, and f) controlling seizures associated with seizure disorders.
The Drug Enforcement Administration's (DEA) Chief Administrative Law Judge ruled in 1988 that marijuana must be removed from the Schedule I category and made available for physicians to prescribe. However, the DEA administrators have chosen not to remove marijuana from the Schedule I category.
In the past, some patients have been able to receive medical marijuana through the Investigational New Drug Program (administered by the Food and Drug Administration) when their physicians have submitted the required application papers. However, in February 1992, the US Secretary of Health and Human Services closed this access to medical marijuana, dismissing hundreds of submitted applications, most of which were for AIDS patients. Only the 15 patients who were already receiving medical marijuana through this program were allowed to continue to receive their medicine and only eight are alive to date.
Thirty-six states, including Virginia, have recognized marijuana's therapeutic potential and have passed legislation supporting its value. Therapeutic use is also supported by several organizations including: the Alliance for Cannabis Therapeutics, the National Association of Attorneys General, The American Medical Student Association, the California Medical Association, the Virginia Nurses Society on Addictions, Physicians for AIDS Care, and the National Lymphoma Foundation.
Despite its illegal status, patients and their families continue to obtain and use this medicine when conventional therapies have not been effective or are too toxic. This has placed patients at risk for obtaining contaminated marijuana and has placed patients and their families at risk for criminal charges.
Patients are often prescribed toxic and potentially addictive medicine with the understanding that the benefits will outweigh the risks. As with many other medications and therapies, a practitioner should have the right to prescribe cannabis to his/her patient(s) when he/she determines potential benefits surpass the possible health risks.
Nurses must urge the federal government to recognize this as a medical emergency and allow access to cannabis as a medication.