By Greg Smith
Associated Press Writer
Wednesday, April 5, 2000; 6:08 AM
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Under the Compassionate Care Program, multiple sclerosis patient Barbara Douglass was one of 15 people in the country who was chosen to receive medical marijuana.
The federal program was discontinued in 1992, but the pain Douglass feels in her back and legs hasn't stopped. Neither has her use of marijuana.
"When the leg is just killing you, you rub it and rub it. Sometimes you rub it so much and so hard you can bruise yourself," said Douglass, who developed MS in 1988.
"The marijuana helps. It eases the pain and spasms. I believe smoking marijuana helps me deal with the disease that I'm forced to deal with."
Douglass, 43, carries a letter from her doctor stating that she participated in the program and may continue using marijuana.
She'll have that letter with her Thursday when she travels to the University of Iowa for a three-day conference on the therapeutic use of marijuana.
Billed as the first of its kind, organizers say the conference is being held in response to a report last year by the Institute of Medicine. A report by the federal advisory panel said marijuana can help fight pain and nausea and should be tested further in scientific trials.
"If there can be some enlightenment, that would be wonderful," said Melanie Dreher, dean of Iowa's College of Nursing and a former board member of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.
"I think that people need to know the whole picture of marijuana. That, in fact, it's not just a recreational drug but has medicinal value."
It is against federal law for doctors to prescribe the drug. Yet voters in Alaska, Washington, California, Arizona, Nevada, Oregon, Maine and the District of Columbia have approved laws allowing doctors to recommend marijuana use by patients suffering from cancer, glaucoma and other conditions.
The Justice Department is challenging those laws.
Al Byrne Jr., cofounder of a group called Patients Out of Time, which asked Iowa to hold the conference, said the government has to fight the laws because "if they give up their control and pass that control to the health care community, then they're out of a job."
Byrne says he smoked marijuana to relieve eye pressure from glaucoma. He said his father also smoked it in the late 1960s - under advice from his doctor - to relieve nausea and pain from liver cancer. He said his dad bought the drug illegally off the street.
Douglass said she gets upset when asked if she gets high as a result of smoking marijuana.
"Just think about it. There you are, you've got this disease and you
need something to relieve the pain. That's certainly not going to be a
high," she said. "We're a different group of people than those who smoke
it for a high."
On the Net:
National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws: http://www.natlnorml.org/
Patients Out of Time: http://www.medicalcannabis.com/
Department of Justice: http://www.usdoj.gov