OP-ED: Loved ones can't afford to wait for medical cannabis


On Sept. 18, The York Dispatch published an op-ed from the Pennsylvania Medical Society (PAMED) expressing their opposition to giving seriously ill patients in Pennsylvania access to medical marijuana. While the Campaign4Compassion agrees with their call for marijuana to be rescheduled by the federal government, an overwhelming majority of doctors across the country, 23 states, and the people of Pennsylvania do not think that patients should have to wait for the federal government to change their classification in order to use this plant medicinally.

Campaign4Compassion (C4C) is a grassroots advocacy group started by mothers of sick children and other patients to advocate for the compassionate use of medical cannabis. Our goals are to educate residents and lawmakers in Pennsylvania and to pass comprehensive, compassionate medical cannabis legislation so that all patients with qualifying conditions have access to medication without fear of criminal prosecution.

Several national medical associations — including the American Nurses Association, the American Public Health Association, the American Academy of HIV Medicine, the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and the Epilepsy Foundation of America — support the compassionate use of medical marijuana. A recent poll from the New England Journal of Medicine found that 76 percent of doctors would recommend medical marijuana to their patients, with 96 percent support from Pennsylvania doctors who participated in the poll. The Pennsylvania Medical Society claims to represent Pennsylvania doctors, but according to their own numbers only 37 percent of doctors in the state are members of the group.

While PAMED expresses their opposition to Senate Bill 3 and any similar legislation, they never provide a specific problem with the content of the bill. As Dr. Bruce Nicholson, chief of Lehigh Valley Health Network's division of pain management and a member of PAMED, has stated:

"The intent of this legislation is to control and ensure that there is acceptable dosing of THC & Cannibidiol for both the therapeutic use in the patient population as well as further studies of medical cannabis regarding specific conditions. It is my opinion that the current position of PAMED is not one of constructive dialogue further identifying the potential benefits of medical cannabis."

Like many other opponents of medical marijuana legislation, PAMED stakes their position on the need for more research and FDA approval. Since 1976, there has been a congressional mandate placed on the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) to study drugs only as substances of harm. Since NIDA owns the only researchable source of cannabis in the United States, research has been slanted to find only the negative effects of these drugs. However, in other countries where laws are different, researchers have found that cannabis can be used safely within the confines of a medical program.

Even within the United States, despite the restrictions on research, over a dozen recent small-scale Phase 2 trials support marijuana's medical efficacy. Studies like these and research from other countries was sufficient evidence for 23 states and the District of Columbia to enact sensible medical marijuana legislation. Lawmakers, residents and doctors in those states decided patients should not have to wait for this bureaucratic process to be changed.

To support their claims that medical marijuana has harmed patients with epilepsy, PAMED sites the Chapman study presented to the American Epilepsy Society (AES). Out of 75 patients using medical cannabis, 57 percent reported improvement in seizure control, with 33 percent reporting more than a 50 percent reduction in seizures. In a patient population that has only a 1 percent response rate to the 22 other FDA-approved antiepileptic medications, this efficacy rate is impressive. PAMED also indicates that medical marijuana was responsible for the 20 percent who experienced an increase in seizures. However, they fail to mention pharmaceutical anticonvulsants can also cause an increase in seizures in some patients.

We would like to make it very clear that as parents and potential patients we know there is no guarantee that any treatment will be effective. We are only asking for access to another option by our trusted medical professionals and the patients that they treat. The diseases that we face are debilitating, life-altering and often times life-threatening. We do not have time on our side.

PAMED asks us, "Why not wait"?

To ask patients and their loved ones to wait years for the federal government to reschedule marijuana, for research to advance, for our Legislature to act, is cruel.

We should not have to wait one more minute. The people we love are suffering, and there is a safe, effective treatment that could help. Every day we wait means more pills, more hospital stays, more seizures, more pain, more tears.

Now is the time to move forward on this critically important legislation.

At 1 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 22, we will gather inside the Pennsylvania Capitol to demand that lawmakers stop waiting and take action.

We respectfully request that the Pennsylvania Medical Society reconsider their position. We implore them to remember that at the end of the day, we simply don't want to bury our loved ones knowing that there is a medicine that could have facilitated healing and a better quality of life.

Why would anyone want to stand in the way of that?

— This op-ed is excerpted from a blog post Latrisha Bench wrote for the Campaign4Compassion (C4C). It was part of an exchange between the Pennsylvania Medical Society and C4C — an effort intended to foster a better understanding of the other side's position on medical marijuana. The York Dispatch published the PAMED's blog last week.