Why medical marijuana?
I get this question from friends and family regularly. After years of work, study, and debt to be an emergency room physician, why mess with medical marijuana too? People who know me, know that I love the emergency room. The pace, the people, the excitement, and the opportunity to step and help someone when they really need it are all rewarding and addictive. It’s great and I can’t imagine a better job. So why medical marijuana?
As a whitewater guide and someone who frequented music festivals in college, I had certainly been around marijuana and it was obvious to me that it treated people better than alcohol or other illicit drugs. I was always open about my opinion that its designation as a schedule 1 drug akin to heroin was nonsensical in a country where cigarettes, opioids, and prescription amphetamines are commonplace. However, this was not a commonly held view where I attended medical school.
But when a close friend’s mother was dying of breast cancer and trying to live long enough to see his wedding, he came to me and asked if I could get her some marijuana to help with the nausea and poor appetite that resulted from chemotherapy. As a religious and conservative woman, he thought she might be more accepting of the idea if it came from a doctor or at least a medical student in my case. I did the research I could; there wasn’t as much medical data available then. I decided to give her a small wooden box with an ornate glass pipe and some organic marijuana. It was illegal and against our medical school’s code of ethics but it was the right thing to do and I stand by my decision. Compassion beats regulation every time for me.
At the wedding, she pulled me aside and and hugged me. She said, “When it gets too bad, I go down in the basement and I smoke some of that stuff, and I feel so much better.” It was the first time I’d ever treated someone with a medicine and it felt good to help and for someone to trust my help.
As I continued through medical school and a residency in emergency medicine, I spent a lot of time in the wilderness and festival community and realized that a person could learn as much about pharmacology at Burning Man as they could in medical school if they payed attention. I ended up doing my grand rounds on recreational pharmacology as a senior resident and was slightly amazed at how little the medical community really knew about the ways that people were using illegal substances to address physical and mental health. In the western medicine model, all illegal substances are dangerous and addictive, end of discussion. This myth persists despite the volumes of data we have regarding the medical potential of marijuana, psilocybin, ketamine, and other drugs that have been use recreationally.
Over and over again, research and my patient’s experiences have proven to me that marijuana is one of the safest and most powerful medicines available.
So, why marijuana? Because it works and because it’s safe.
Ohio’s Medical Marijuana program begins next month and, as a physician at Stillwater Medicine, I’m excited to get the word out about the uses of cannabis. Check out our webpage for details about scheduling and qualifying conditions.