Between Federal and state law, patients and their families are waiting and lobbying for an often controversial substance- medical marijuana. With an increasing number of states legalizing medical usage despite federal law and without FDA approval, concerns are mounting about misuse, safety, and efficacy. While some may want a slow and cautious examination of the issues, many hoping to benefit from it feel that any delay is life limiting and possibly life ending.
It often surprises people when I admit to supporting legalization as fast as possible. I don’t fit the mental picture people seem to have of proponents. I lead Bible studies. I am married to a pastor and we have four small children. I’m not a democrat or a hippie. I’m not seeking legalization for myself or even just opposed to the federal government controlling substances.
It’s even more shocking if you talk to me long enough to hear I support availability of marijuana for children.
Six or seven years ago, I would have scoffed at the notion. My vague familiarity with the issue of marijuana as medicine was that people used it for pain and possibly nausea, and my assumptions were that it was generally a ruse for people looking for a legal high. It wasn’t until my eighteen-month-old daughter seized for forty-five minutes straight that I first looked any deeper. What I found surprised me.
About 1 in 26 people will be diagnosed with epilepsy in their lifetime. Many of them are children, some even younger than my daughter. The first time I faced a list of medication side effects from standard anti-epileptic drugs, I felt sick. Sedation, dizziness, memory loss, possible rage, trouble breathing, self harm, death. It was incomprehensible to sit and think of giving medications with terrible and potentially devastating side effects to a toddler, yet the alternative was just as terrifying.
It is at this point that some people have to make even more difficult decisions. There is a medication that may slow or stop some seizures- but it causes irreversible blindness as a side effect. Or brain surgery, if there is a clear place in the brain where the seizures start and removing it isn’t too dangerous. There are devices that can be implanted that deliver shocks to nerves that help reduce seizures. Despite the list of available treatments, 1 in 5 people with epilepsy will have seizures despite properly taking their medications. This greatly increases the chances of serious injury or death.
Or there is marijuana.
For years, we’ve been told that pot is a gateway drug. We have been told that it will sap you of ambition, lead to an uncontrollable desire to consume snacks, and end with hard drugs and a complete waste of a life that was once filled with endless potential. There are more then 700,000 Americans in jail for possession of marijuana. The war on drugs has been costly and has not been terribly successful in halting the flow of drugs into the USA.
Marijuana has occupied a strictly illegal position for a long time. It’s a Schedule I drug which means that it’s classified as having no medical uses and is highly addictive. It’s in the same class as heroin and more dangerous by this scale than OxyContin or Valium. Yet in the USA every year, tens of thousands of people are dying from prescription drug over doses and errors.1 Many of the drugs that cause the most deaths are prescribed to children like my daughter. Many of them carry far greater risks than marijauna, for less benefit.
As more states push legalization and use becomes more common and easier to study (the FDA is currently running a study on pediatric epilepsy and cannabis) I hope that there are more options for people needing medical care. Banning it hasn’t removed the dangers and has limited access to it’s benefits. I believe it is long overdue for our federal government to reexamine the classification of marijuana.
With more study and an improved legal status, I believe marijuana has great medical potential. There are multiple conditions that really need new medication options and marijuana is showing potential and promise.