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Editorial: Medical cannabis offers possible alternative to pain, opioids

Some will never accept medical marijuana, rebranded in Maryland as medical cannabis, because of the stigma. It has, after all, for most of their lifetimes been viewed as an illicit, illegal drug. In fact, marijuana use is still against federal law — it is classified as a Schedule I drug just like heroin — regardless of how many states have legalized it for medicinal purposes (33 at last count).

That thinking, however, means some with chronic pain who could be getting perfectly legal relief, are not. And some choosing not to could wind up among the growing casualties of the opioid epidemic. A number of people talked about their their experiences with medical cannabis at a recent informational session put on by Herbology, the retail arm of Grassroots Cannabis, which will be managing the CarrollCanna dispensary. Diane Davison, who owns the license for the planned CarrollCanna dispensary, said she expects to open her Westminster location at 700-K Corporate Center Court by sometime in June.

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That’s good news for the many Carroll residents who have been given doctor recommendations for medical cannabis but have had to go to Frederick or Baltimore counties or even farther for it. And it is “many.” Dr. John Wah, founder of Maryland Cannabis Physicians, in Westminster, where he recommends cannabis for patients, said there are approximately 1,500 patients at his practice alone.

Medical cannabis is used to treat a variety of ailments, such as glaucoma, muscle spasms and lack of appetite, but it is for pain management that many users are finding it to be particularly effective. “I would say at least half of the people I see for medical cannabis evaluations are for pain,” Wah told us. “By the time people come to see me they’ve already tried the standard pain management routes.”

That was a familiar refrain at the Herbology informational session in February. Becky Strong, of Manchester, noted the benefits she has seen from medical cannabis. “I have had multiple orthopedic replacements. These hips are not mine, neither are my knees, so I have chronic pain,” Strong told us after the meeting. “I have been on a number of different medicines, ibuprofen; a number of different things. [Cannabis] has helped a lot. I am off any prescription pain meds.”

Eliminating or at least reducing the need for opioids is much-needed given that prescribed opioids can lead to addiction. Far too many overdoses began with someone making a simple trip to the doctor looking to combat pain from a chronic condition or accident. “Cannabis can help people cut down on their pain medication dosing,” Wah told us.

Jim Sipes, of Union Bridge, for example, told us he began using opioids after a back injury but “nearly died from an overdose because I was trying to come off the opioids, went out and got something from the street and it was pure fentanyl.” He said he now uses only medical cannabis to treat his pain.

There is still much that needs to be figured out in terms of people being able to freely using their recommended medical cannabis. For example, Carroll Hospital is a part of LifeBridge Health, and it is LifeBridge’s policy that medical cannabis will not be permitted in any of its participating hospitals. And, of course, federally it is illegal. So using it on federal land or transporting it over an interstate highway or taking it onto an airplane could get a patient into serious trouble.

Those are issues that need to, and will be, addressed, sooner, we hope, rather than later. We also hope whatever stigma remains goes up in smoke because there’s no reason for people to be in pain, or taking highly addictive opioids for pain, if medical cannabis would work for them.

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