From Breast Cancer Coalition of Rochester: Voices of the Ribbon Newsletter
By Marianne Sargent
All too many breast cancer patients can identify with the side effects of chemotherapy while undergoing treatment. Others have watched love ones go through this difficult experience. While the costly drugs Kytril and Zofran are routinely prescribed to combat the nausea, pain and loss of energy that so often accompany chemo, they do not always have the desired effect. Allowing New York State physicians to prescribe medical cannabis provides a viable option for some of these patients. This is the goal of New York State Assembly Bill number A06357-A: the Compassionate Care Act.
To date, twenty states and the District of Columbia have enacted medical marijuana laws. The current bill sponsored by Assemblyman Gottfried and Senator Savino represents a vast improvement over prior versions. Lawmakers agree that learning from the experiences and missteps of other states has made the New York version a more tightly regulated, focused piece of legislation.
The New York State Department of Health would oversee the production and dispensing of medical marijuana. Patients must be certified by a doctor, physician’s assistant or nurse practitioner as having a “severe debilitating or life threatening condition”. People living with multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, AIDS, Parkinson’s Disease, fibromyalgia and neuropathy are just some of those in addition to cancer patients who may qualify for this medication. Medical providers would report all patient certifications to the DOH, who in turn issues a photo ID card for each patient to be renewed annually. Prescribed use and amount limits are specified in the law. The law also states that medical marijuana cannot be used in a public place or anywhere smoking tobacco is prohibited. Organizations such as pharmacies, hospitals or hospice centers would register with the DOH to sell and dispense medical cannabis to registered patients or their caregivers. The dispensary license would require renewal every two years. Plants would be grown in a secure, indoor facility ensuring “seed to sale” tracking. Home grown plants are not a legal option. These steps make medical marijuana more closely regulated than other currently legal drugs such as morphine or Oxycontin.
The authors and supporters of this bill have taken the thoughtful concerns of the public into account.
Isn’t marijuana a dangerous gateway drug?
There is no evidence to support this opinion according to a 1999 Institute of Medicine report. States that have enacted medical marijuana laws have not seen an increase in usage by the general population or continuation of use by patients after the prescribed time.
Isn’t smoking a health risk?
It is; however medical marijuana is produced in several other forms. It can be administered using a vaporizer, or in pill, drop, oil or patch form.
How do we know this is medication that will work?
Studies have shown that marijuana gives relief to the muscle spasms, tingling and numbness MS patients experience. Chemotherapy patients report relief from nausea and pain, as well as increased appetites. Those living with various forms of epilepsy have seen the number of daily seizures decrease dramatically when medical cannabis is used. The chemicals found in cannabis can be adjusted during plant growth or processing to meet the needs of a specific condition. For example, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the substance best known for causing euphoric feelings associated with marijuana use, can be reduced or eliminated to fit the patient.
What does research say?
Research supporting the efficacy of medical marijuana conducted by the US Institute of Medicine dates back to the late 1990s. Until marijuana is reclassified by the DEA from a Schedule 1 substance, the FDA cannot legally conduct further research in the United States. Studies completed in Israel and other countries that have compassionate care laws support the safe, effective use of prescribed medical cannabis.
The Breast Cancer Coalition of Rochester is joining with organizations such as New York State Nurses Association, American Academy of Family Physicians and the Hospital and Palliative Care Association in support of the Compassionate Care Act. A 2013 poll by Siena Research Institute found that 82% of New Yorkers support the passing of a law that allows for medical marijuana use by seriously or terminally ill people if prescribed by a physician. Some breast cancer patients have shared their frustration in being advised by some doctors to obtain marijuana on their own to manage pain and nausea. We believe it is in the best interest of cancer patients and others to have a medication that is reliably produced and legally obtained.
Excerpt from the BCCR Winter 2014 Newsletter