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Will Whatley: Medical cannabis not a half-baked idea

By WILL WHATLEY, Alabama Daily News

I used to work for a hospice pharmacy benefits manager. I knew about some drugs from my personal medical history and realized the potency of the medications that were being prescribed to these dying patients. Oftentimes, the pain medication, usually morphine, would cause patients some kind of gastrointestinal distress and could also cause anxiety. Combine that with the general anxiety of impending death and many patients end up needing more medications.

 The only goal with these patients was ensuring their comfort as they face their final days. In these instances, when dying patients need comfort, shouldn’t we make all options available to those who need them?

For the last several months, the Alabama Medical Marijuana Study Commission has met to craft a bill to be introduced in the next legislative session. I am here to encourage such legislation, but in a thoughtful and deliberative manner.

As medicine, cannabis has proven to relieve pain, reduce anxiety and stress and improve appetite. These effects are ideal for cancer patients who are going through chemotherapy. There are other medications that can treat these conditions but they often come with their own side effects that can further complicate care. Maybe doctors and patients prefer not using cannabis to treat their afflictions and they have every right to choose that route, but shouldn’t we give these patients an option in their treatment?

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that there are issues in making cannabis available as medication to all patients who meet the criteria for a prescription. As I have shared here before, I’m bipolar and suffer from anxiety and depression. I now have my conditions managed through medication and therapy, so adding cannabis into the mix would likely only complicate things for me. That being said, if a doctor exhausts all options and thinks cannabis could benefit a patient, it should most definitely be an option for them.

Many in the medical community are concerned that if cannabis were legalized for medicinal purposes that it could lead to more marijuana being available on the streets. While that is a potential possibility, wouldn’t a drug that’s non-addictive with no potential for overdose be preferred to the painkillers that have made addicts out of countless people and led to numerous overdose deaths?

I’m not saying cannabis is a cure-all. Like with many things in life, medical marijuana does present some issues along with its benefits. Valid concerns exist about using it while driving or being on the job and, for the safety of the public, these issues must be addressed. Also, because some states have legalized cannabis for recreational use, there are some who see states like Alabama as places where they can peddle their wares and “gray markets” can appear. These instances often involve products of questionable ingredients and can induce negative, unintended consequences on users. The presence of these products can do more harm than good and law enforcement will need to be enabled to help protect those who need these products from one of inferior quality.

I commend the Medical Marijuana Commission for its due diligence and I encourage the rest of the legislature and the governor’s office to together on something that will most assuredly help those in need. 

Right now, states across the country are suing pharmaceutical companies for how they marketed potent painkillers like OxyContin. People are dying everyday from fentanyl overdoses. Despite the deadly outcomes that occur from abusing these drugs, they can benefit some patients who need them when prescribed and monitored correctly. The same can be done with medicinal cannabis. Let’s take advantage of this situation and put it to good use.

Will Whatley is a reporter and contributing writer for Alabama Daily News. Reach him by email at [email protected].

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