Dr. Gifford Jones

Quebec judges make right decision about painkillers

What would you do if you were the judge? A man in his 40s (his name is protected under provincial law) is involved in a severe car crash. His spine is badly damaged resulting in painful spasms. A variety of painkillers are prescribed to alleviate the pain, but none are effective. Would you agree to the medical use of marijuana?

Patient X requested insurance coverage for marijuana, but it was refused. Not an unexpected decision as the use of this drug has sparked controversy for many years. But an unusual event occurred in this case.

The Quebec judges wrote, “The tribunal is well aware of controversial attitudes regarding the therapeutic use of marijuana.” But then they added this important message, “There is no medical consensus for this type of treatment. Therefore we must rely on personal experience of the people involved in order to appreciate the benefits of marijuana use.”

The result is that Quebec’s auto insurance agency has been ordered to pay $5,000 to patient X. This will enable him to build a greenhouse in his home to grow marijuana, pay for water, electricity, plants and soil expenses.

And he can smoke marijuana in his own home.

I admit to some unkind comments about judges in the past. I have considered their opinions on pain control and some other medical situations as asinine, devoid of all common sense. But they deserve congratulations in this instance.

Finally, a tribunal of judges has said, “Let’s rely on personal experience” This columnist has been saying for years that there is ample patient evidence that marijuana helps to relieve the pain of several medical conditions.

But politicians have been reluctant to accept this fact. Finally, in July 2001 the federal government legalized the use of marijuana for terminally ill patients, and for those suffering from cancer, multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injury, AIDS, severe forms of arthritis and epilepsy.

Marijuana alleviates severe nausea, persistent muscle spasm and seizures associated with these diseases. Surely it’s not asking too much to make marijuana easily accessible to these patients.

But government regulations don’t make the purchase of marijuana easy. Patients must first find a physician who will write a letter saying this drug is needed. They must also indicate if they wish to obtain marijuana from a licensed dealer or grow it themselves. Health Canada must then approve the application.

Readers tell me that one of the big problems is finding a doctor willing to get involved with the paper work. Others complain that it’s a time-consuming process that takes many weeks. The sad and annoying part is that patients continue to suffer while the paper work is going on.

Some opponents of marijuana say that more research is needed to test the safety of this medication. Yet in 2002 a report from the Harvard Medical School stressed that one of marijuana’s greatest advantages is its remarkable safety.

Critics tend to forget that our so-called “safe” drugs often cause severe reactions and sometimes death. Most prescription drugs have a list as long as your arm of possible drug reactions. But to my knowledge, no one has ever died from an overdose of marijuana. Tests on mice show that the ratio of marijuana needed to overdose to the point of intoxication is 40,000 to 1. By comparison, for alcohol it’s 5 to 1 to 10 to 1!

I don’t condone smoking marijuana for pleasure as I’m appalled to see so many young and older people smoking tobacco. But Canada and the U.S. spend huge sums of money policing the use of marijuana and loading our jails with its users. It would be financially prudent instead to spend these billions on those who need health care and are not receiving it.

Spinal injuries or diseases that cause unrelenting spasm need speedy access to marijuana. The best and fastest route would be a doctor’s prescription filled at the local pharmacy. What we need for patients like X is more judges who realize that “personal experience” is the primary way to evaluate pain.

What do you think?

See the web site www.docgiff.com. For comments info@docgiff.com.

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