Doctors for Pot?

Marijuana may become legal throughout the whole state of California if the efforts of the California Medical Association are successful in legalizing the drug.

At its Oct. 14 meeting in Anaheim, the CMA’s Board of Trustees adopted a policy created in 2010 that calls to legalize marijuana in order to encourage research lending to responsible regulation. The goal is to regulate recreational cannabis in a manner similar to alcohol and tobacco and facilitate dissemination of risks and benefits of cannabis use, according to the California Medical Association’s website.

“The biggest thing to point out is the reason why doctors at CMA have pushed for legalization is so that it can be a more regulated substance and so they can study the research and science behind it,” said Molly Weedn, Spokeswoman for the CMA. “It certainly isn’t because they want to make it more readily available, they want to make it more regulated and researchable.”

Cannabis sativa, better known as marijuana, is illegal at the federal level, and is subject to a legal exception in California if the drug has been recommended by a physician for medicinal purposes. There are two forms of marijuana patients use: the actual plant version known as medical marijuana, and the synthesized version, a pill form called marinol, which contains tetrahydrocannibinol, or drobinol, one of the main components of the plant.

“The reason that the California Medical Association adopted this policy is because physicians feel that there isn’t enough scientific concrete evidence to prove the benefits and risks of medical cannabis,” Weedn said. “Medical cannabis on a federal level is currently a “schedule one” drug, falling in the same category as heroin and cocaine. As a schedule one drug, there are serious limits to what sort of research can be done on the effects of the drug. The physicians have called for the rescheduling and legalization of cannabis because they want to be able to better study, look at and understand what the risks are. There’s no way of really knowing what the concrete scientific evidence behind the good and the bad around medical cannabis is.”

In theory, the federal government can prosecute for possession of marijuana because it violates federal law. At the same time, the state of California has made a defense that if the possession of marijuana is for medical reasons at the recommendation of a doctor, then it is legal.

“I personally haven’t used Marinol,” said Dr. Scott Jung, doctor of oncology at the UCI Medical Center, “and I definitely have not even thought about using marijuana on my patient population.”

The medication (Marinol) is usually prescribed for people who have undergone chemotherapy and associated nausea. It also is given as an appetite stimulation for cancer patients or patients with weight issues, as well as patients with HIV or anorexia problems. While pain killers work well, some patients have claimed to feel more relaxed physically and mentally after using medical marijuana.

“I do not prescribe medical marijuana — I am too afraid of its side effects for my patients and its reported efficacy has not been proven rigorous scientific standards,” said Gerald A. Maguire, M.D., associate professor of clinical psychiatry and senior associate dean of medical education. “A few of my patients have received it from other doctors and their psychosis and depression have worsened.”

“I would favor the synthetic version as opposed to the marijuana itself, I think I would not oppose medical Marinol” said Dr. Vi Kien Chiu, doctor of oncology at the UC Irvine Medical Center. “I’m an oncologist; I would definitely try it if other opiates were ineffective, but I would use other pain medication first before prescribing Marinol. I’m not really opposed to it, but at the same time there are more effective drugs that I would prescribe first.”

The users of medical marijuana use state cards or recommendations to obtain the plant from different clinics. Recommendations can usually last up to a year and renewing a card can cost up to $45 or more.

“Why are we pretending as if its such a bad thing when so many people do it?” said a fourth-year public health policy major who wanted to remain anonymous. “Even if it could be outside of medicinal purposes I feel that this could be regulated and a really good source of income. People do have the counter argument of saying that it can lead to ADHD and chemicals getting stuck in your forebrain but I mean, people drink alcohol and it’s a poison to your liver, everything has its downside.

Cancer patients are such advocates of it because it doesn’t make them feel queasy and it really does help with the side effects of chemo. I think people need to stop changing this mindset about it that it’s not bad in moderation. I just don’t see the stigma behind it.”

Negative effects of cannabis on the body include the impairing of cognitive function, addiction, depression and respiratory problems, among several others.

“I would be fine if marijuana was legalized in California,” said a third-year criminology law and society major who also wanted to remain anonymous. “I feel like if it was legalized, marijuana would be another thing that could be taxable so it would probably help out with the budget crisis that we’re having. Again, just like a lot of other things, marijuana should be used responsibly (just like alcohol) and there should be requirements and consequences for its misuse. I believe doctors should be able to have the option to prescribe the use of medical marijuana, but only for extreme cases.”

Until marijuana can be properly tested, the question of whether marijuana is truly a reliable medicinal source will remain a controversial debate topic for doctors and patients alike.

“I don’t think I like the idea of marijuana being legal, but at the same time, there aren’t many reasons why marijuana should be illegal except for the fact that it’s a gateway drug,” said freshman student Gina Vu Bahn.

“I know that we spend a lot of money and time trying to jail people who possess marijuana and I think it’s a waste of effort and resources. The money should be spent elsewhere like schools. I find it ironic how cigarettes and alcohol are allowed even though they have far worse dangers.”