More MS news articles for August 2001

Marijuana caution is justified

Wednesday 1 August 2001
The Edmonton Journal

If Canada's new medical marijuana system looks like a rushed job, that's because it is. It was forced on the federal government a year ago by the Ontario Court of Appeal, which gave Ottawa one year to change its laws to provide for the use of marijuana for medical purposes.

The government made the court's July 31 deadline, but much work remains to be done, and many questions remain.

Patients are currently left to their own devices to find the drug. They can either grow their own, once they have the government's permission, or get it from someone who has a federal licence to grow marijuana. Eventually Ottawa means to have a supply of medical marijuana, available the way other prescription drugs are, but that's a long way off.

Doctors in particular have been put in a difficult spot. The legal route to marijuana requires a sufferer to get a written declaration from a doctor -- a family physician, if the patient is dying, and a specialist for chronic conditions.

The doctor is obliged to state that other conventional treatments of the patient's symptoms haven't worked or won't work. He or she must also state the daily dosage recommended and the length of treatment.

How is a doctor to do that? Marijuana is not an approved drug in any country in the world. Scientific studies on medical use of the drug are few, and inconclusive.

While patients give powerful anecdotal evidence of its effectiveness, our whole medical system is built not on anecdotal evidence but on objective scientific tests. When physicians write prescriptions and advise on dosages, they base their advice on scientific evidence; that's what makes them different from dispensers of holistic remedies.

The federal regulations say marijuana will be available to people with a terminal illness, to those suffering from multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injury, cancer, AIDS, epilepsy and severe arthritis, and to anyone whose case is supported by two medical specialists. That's a lot of people, a lot of symptoms.

Clinical trials on use of marijuana have barely started in this country. Until some of those trials are completed, the Alberta Medical Association is correct -- doctors should think twice before endorsing medical marijuana for their patients.

That will be frustrating for sufferers seeking relief from their symptoms. When one is in pain, the necessity of properly testing a well-known drug like marijuana may not be obvious.

For their sake, one can only hope that new research into the value of medical marijuana gets under way sooner rather than later.

© 2001 CanWest Interactive