In recent years medical marijuana use has become increasingly popular. Dr. Michael Moskowitz, a board certified psychiatrist and pain specialist with over thirty years of experience, spoke with Head Magazine’s own Charlotte Parker about the benefits of medical marijuana and his own personal experience.
In his words:
I broke my leg in 1999. I shattered my femur in three places. I was operated on, I developed a pulmonary embolism. I almost died from sepsis that I got. It was, it was a very rough time, and I came through that using morphine and it was very helpful. I got through the pain problem and worked on it for about four months and then gradually tapered off of it.
What I noticed when I tapered off of it was that I got a lot of myself back. I really hadn’t realized I was missing a lot of me, but I couldn’t bend very easily. I was much slower on the morphine and didn’t really fully take that in until I was off of it. The medicine treated me very well. It really helped tremendously with my pain. It was very effective. It allowed me to get back to work after two months and work for four months with it. I’ve had that experience.
It was a positive one. It wasn’t a negative one. When I broke my leg again, 21 years after that, I broke it in three places on my tibia and fibula and tore the ligaments up in my foot. In many ways it was a more painful and debilitating injury than the femur. Although breaking the femur is the most painful thing I’ve ever experienced. This one required four surgeries to repair and I never used an opioid. I actually got through the whole thing using topical cannabis, one of the things I invented with it. All I did was put it on topically.
As soon as I got out of the cast. I was on opioids for the first week and a half, right after the surgery. I was taking hydromorphone at the time, it worked fine, but I didn’t like the way I felt on it now being aware of how I felt before on morphine, it was very similar. As soon as the cast came off, I stopped the hydromorphone and I used the topical cannabis tincture. It took care of my pain 100% of the time. It was the best pain reliever I’ve ever used in my life and bar none.
Dr. Moskowitz is a living example of how cannabis can improve the medical field when it comes to pain relievers and pre-cancer treatment and his findings have been far from isolated.
The science journal, Substance Use & Misuse ran a survey last year where 2,100 participants used medical marijuana to treat conditions ranging from anxiety, chronic pain, depression, insomnia, and PTSD and nearly 90% of the participants stated that cannabis was “very” or “extremely” helpful when treating their medical conditions. 88.7% of the participants even took this a step forward and said it was important to their quality of life.
Three-fifths of the participants had previously been taking opioids such as oxycodone and codeine and 79% of them were able to stop or reduce using opioids once they started using medical marijuana for their conditions. 86% percent of participants went on to say that the marijuana they were prescribed ended up reducing their pain, and 84% of them said their pain was not interfering with their everyday lives as much as it was before the study.
Scientists have found plenty of other uses for medical marijuana. Marinol and Cesamet are oral drugs that contain a manmade version of THC that have been used to relieve nausea in cancer patients currently going through chemotherapy as well as patients who have been diagnosed with AIDS.
Epidiolex, a marijuana-based drug used to treat children with epilepsy, was approved by the FDA back in 2013, but the use of Epidote for children is still highly restrictive. Sativex, a mouth spray used to treat muscle spasms was first approved in the UK back in 2010 and was later used by researchers in the US as a pain reliever for patients with breast cancer. A UC Irvine study in 2013 even found that medical marijuana could be used as a treatment for children with autism.
While medical marijuana and the increase in the number of studies about its benefits may change prescription drugs for the better, Dr. Moskowitz and other researchers are concerned that many doctors are still reluctant to prescribe medical marijuana to their patients.
Even in the 37 states where medical marijuana is currently legal, and the general population has access to a medical marijuana card, he says very few doctors have done proper studies on how cannabis can help those who need it most.
As a result, some people have to rely on dispensaries to find the medication they need, and this can be a challenge because workers at dispensaries are not licensed pharmacists and might be unsure of the dosage people should take, depending on their condition and lifestyle. Even if patients are able to find out what form of medical marijuana they should be taking, there is still the concern whether or not they can afford it.
While at least one-fifth of Medicare recipients are active users of medical marijuana, it is currently not covered by Medicare or any insurance provider. While two-thirds of Medicare recipients feel it should be covered due to the high price tag, there are two roadblocks that need to be cleared for this change to become reality.
The first roadblock is that marijuana is still classified by the DEA as a Schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, putting it on the same level of restriction as heroin and methamphetamine, and the government will not reimburse patients for a drug that is illegal on the federal level.
The second roadblock is that any drugs that are covered by Medicare need prior approval by The Food and Drug Administration. While the FDA currently has approved one marijuana-derived drug and three synthetic marijuana-related drugs for use by prescription, they haven’t approved marketing it as a form of medical treatment. As for private insurance companies, the major providers cannot cover a drug classified as a Schedule I substance.
There is a chance that at least one of these roadblocks might be cleared in the future. In December of last year, President Biden signed the Medical Marijuana and Cannabidiol Research Expansion Act, which intends to make it easier to study the impacts and potential of medical marijuana, although it still classifies cannabis as a Schedule I substance.
The Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, Xavier Becerra, stated that the current administration plans to do a proper review of federal marijuana scheduling, which could result in a change in classification for the drug.
Very recently, Representative Earl Blumenauer of Oregon, who co-sponsored the Medical Marijuana and Cannabidiol Research Expansion Act last year, said he wants to take this a step further and wrote an open letter to both Becerra and Attorney General Merrick Garland, urging them to make the HHS’s review of cannabis’s federal classification an open and transparent review to ensure accountability of the investigation.
Current polling shows that most Americans support lowering the classification of marijuana.
AJ Favorito is a freelance writer, photographer, and filmmaker specializing in comedy and animation.
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