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.

To learn more, visit,  or search for Assembly Bill A.6357-A (Gottfried)  and Senate Bill S.4406-A (Savino) at


Excerpt from the BCCR Winter 2014 Newsletter