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Legal marijuana smoker touts 'good medicine'

Thu, Oct. 23, 2003
Jessamy Brown
Star Telegram

When George McMahon picks up his pain relief medicine, he has to go through two sets of locked doors and, once home, store it in a locked safe.

He's just done a drug deal, but it's legal.

McMahon, who smokes 10 marijuana cigarettes a day to ease chronic pain, is one of a handful of patients in the government's little-known medical marijuana program.

McMahon, 54, was a guest speaker at a public forum Wednesday at the University of North Texas on the use of marijuana for medical purposes. The event was hosted by the school's Department of Rehabilitation, Substance Abuse and Addictions.

The forum, attended mostly by students, was designed to give an overview of marijuana and research on medical uses of the drug but not be a debate on the issue.

McMahon, who has a genetic degenerative disease, was an enthusiastic proponent.

"I want to tell you, marijuana's good medicine," McMahon said.

The discussion Wednesday comes amid mixed signals from government agencies throughout the country.

Nine states -- Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Nevada, Oregon and Washington -- allow medical use of marijuana. However, it is still illegal under federal law to grow, sell or possess marijuana. In 2001, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against medical marijuana clubs, stating that there is no medical exception to the federal law against marijuana.

Then last week, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to let the federal government revoke doctors' federal licenses for recommending or discussing the benefits of pot to their patients. The justices declined without comment to review a lower-court ruling that said doctors should be able to speak frankly with their patients.

Jess Cline, a UNT psychology student who is taking a drugs and alcohol class, said government officials need to take a final stance on medical marijuana.

"I think it shows some of the stupidity of the drug policies that we have," said Cline, 22, of Kilgore.

McMahon, who lives near Tyler but declined to give his hometown because of security concerns, frequently travels to advocate for medical marijuana legalization. He recently co-wrote a book with former UNT student Christopher Largen called Prescription Pot: A Leading Advocate's Heroic Battle to Legalize Medical Marijuana.

The federal government supplies McMahon with 300 prerolled cigarettes per month at no charge.

McMahon has a rare neurological disease called nail patella syndrome, a genetic condition that disrupts major organs and causes bones to become brittle and break easily.

After years of illness, he applied in 1990 to the National Institute on Drug Abuse to get the drug under the Investigational New Drug Applications program, he said.

The program was canceled in 1992, but the government continues to supply seven patients with marijuana, officials said. Eight others in the program have died, McMahon said.

Research shows that marijuana can relieve pain, stimulate appetite and ward off nausea. It is used by patients with cancer, AIDS, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis and other illnesses, said Jim Quinn, a UNT professor of addictions, corrections and criminology.

"It is a drug that helps some people with chronic illnesses and disabilities lead full lives," he said. "I think we've got a pretty good case for this drug's usefulness."

He noted, however, that many experts believe the findings don't merit further research.

Quinn also detailed several effects of marijuana that can be dangerous to patients, including cancer, respiratory problems and accelerated heart rate.

McMahon said marijuana helped him become active again and no longer confined to bed. Traditional medications did not relieve his symptoms, he said.

"I can't take a pill and stop my nausea; they tried," McMahon said. "I can't take a pill and stop my pain; they tried."

Marijuana information

The main ingredient in marijuana, Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol or THC, can help treat some medical conditions. THC is the main ingredient in a medicine that relieves nausea for cancer chemotherapy patients.

Marijuana use can impair short-term memory, attention, judgment and learning skills. Long-term use can lead to addiction and cause increased risk of chronic cough, bronchitis, emphysema and cancer of the head, neck and lungs.

SOURCE: National Institute on Drug Abuse

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