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The Medical Marijuana Debates
Posted on November 29, 2013 by David Silverberg in Feature Story
UPDATE! >> The first week of the Debates attracted some of the most personal and compelling comments, thanks to the touching stories shared by the invited patients. What motivated many to speak out was the story of the Echols, a family in Oregon caring for an autistic nine-year-old boy who needs medical marijuana to control his violent behaviour.
Another POV that resonated with visitors was Alison Myrden’s insight into the red-tape she faced trying to get a medical marijuana license from Health Canada. One of the more frequent commenters, Wayne Philips, wrote: “Alison Myrden touches on a very good point when she mentions the gauntlet Health Canada and government expects from already disadvantaged Canadians burdened with health issues and limited incomes. To that, Health Canada, under the guidance of the Conservative Party, intends to virtually take current exemptees out at the knees with the new MMPR.”
Sharing experiences was central to the community that formed during Patients Week. Heather Johnson, for example, wanted to let us know about her medical marijuana background: “I was on opiates 10 years for neuropathic pain and fibromyalgia before I tried medical cannabis on the recommendation of another patient. The difference is like night and day!”
Twitter interviews also became a key entry point for those interested in medical marijuana. The interviews, taking place solely on Twitter between the subject and @medijean, included a chat with a Toronto medical marijuana patient. You can view the entire conversation here.
Infographics and stats were another important way of telling the story of patients during the first week of the Debates. Below, we learn exactly how many Canadians have a medical marijuana license:
Read more >> Everything you need to know about The Medical Marijuana Debates
Alison Myrden "I have filled out more than 30 pages of forms each year for the MS Society, government agencies, disability offices, the federal government, and Health Canada. It's still confusing. I have other patients contacting me for help. That's what the government doesn't understand. They are making us jump through hoops. It's absolutely unacceptable for people like me to have to go through this.
"Doctors want to prescribe pharmaceuticals first. They're not comfortable using medical marijuana in Canada. But patients are suffering. In March of 2001, I was one of the first 20 people in Canada who were granted a Medical Marijuana Access Regulation licence for my chronic progressive MS and tic douloureux (excruciating facial pain). Since then, I have returned to my doctor annually to renew my licence.
"I've spent tens of thousands of dollars, and I'm on a full disability pension. Just look at the costs - the grow equipment, the plant nutrients, etc. When patients are using between 3 and 300 grams a day, it's definitely more than the price of gold. If we legalized and regulated marijuana, it wouldn't be like this." Bio: Alison Myrden, from Burlington, Ontario, is a former corrections officer and Children's Aid Society worker. She has also worked with young offenders and is a speaker for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP).
See more at: > Alison Myrden - The Medical Marijuana Debates
Here, The Medical Marijuana Review shares stories from MS sufferers who couldn’t picture life without marijuana as medicine. Diagnosed with chronic progressive MS in 1992 at the age of 28, wheelchair-bound Alison Myrden says that no other drug – legal or illegal – has been able to reduce the ongoing, 25-year-long “violent pain” in her face like marijuana. She found this salvation after a drug regimen of “thousands of pills a day,” including morphine. “None of that worked, so I went back to medical marijuana,” says the retired law enforcement officer from Burlington, Ontario.
She has been a speaker for LEAP (Law Enforcement Against Prohibition) since 2004, with the support of many officers. She was one of Canada’s first legally licensed medical cannabis users in 1994. “They all believe my fight is worth it. They’re wasting their time fighting the war on drugs,” Myrden says. A disease of the nervous system, MS can cause a range of symptoms such as muscle spasms and debilitating pain, according to the MS Society of Canada.
They say about 100,000 people in Canada suffer from the disease, for which there is no known cure. In May, a U.S. study found smoked cannabis could be an effective treatment for spasticity, a disabling symptom of multiple sclerosis. “We found that smoked cannabis was superior to placebo in reducing symptoms and pain in patients with treatment-resistant spasticity, or excessive muscle contractions,” said study author Jody Corey-Bloom, M.D., Ph.D., professor of neurosciences and director of the Multiple Sclerosis Center at UC San Diego.
Patients rely on drugs to help keep their symptoms at bay Heather Woods, of Winnipeg, uses “cannabis butter” for leg and full-body spasms. She has been suffering from MS for a decade, since the age of 40, and has used medical marijuana up to eight times daily for the last four years. For fatigue, she takes an inhalable cannabis-spray.
Still, there is a litany of pharmaceutical drugs available for the MS patient. The downside, however, is that the side effects include headaches, liver enzyme elevations, a spike in blood pressure, and heart-rate reduction – and a hefty $31,000 bill annually, Woods points out. “The difference between pharmaceuticals and medical marijuana is vast,” says Woods. “For leg spasms the pharmaceuticals just put you out, and are very hard on my digestive system. These drugs just add to the discomfort and fatigue I already suffer.” Marijuana relieves her pain, she says, without any digestive issues. Moreover, pharmaceuticals (in her experience) have caused insomnia.
Despite these and other success stories, the MS Society of Canada keeps its distance from the issue. Karen Lee, Vice President of Research, provided the following statement: “We respect the personal healthcare choices of people living with MS. There is currently insufficient data to recommend marijuana … as a treatment for MS symptoms. However, research is continuing to find out the effect of marijuana in treating spasticity and pain.” Dr. Barry Pakes, a Toronto-based public health specialist and Program Director of the Global Health Education Initiative, says, “Bottom line is that some people use it for pain and spasticity, but there is no evidence that it is effective over and above its euphoric effects. Medical marijuana probably has some limited utility … but really not likely for MS.”
The Canadian Medical Association issued a press release in June, saying, “Asking physicians to prescribe drugs that have not been clinically tested runs contrary to their training and ethics … akin to asking them to work blindfolded and potentially jeopardize the safety of patients.” Concluding the statement, Dr. Anna Reid, President of the CMA, added: “The use of medical marijuana has grown because there aren’t better treatments for people battling chronic pain. This is an area that definitely needs greater attention.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR Dave Gordon ... is a freelance writer in Toronto.
His work can be found in the New York Times, Baltimore Sun, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Toronto Star, National Post and others.
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