By Ed Gogek, M.D.
State legislatures across the country are legalizing medical marijuana, but the nation’s physicians aren’t requesting these laws. The American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Society of Addiction Medicine are both against medical marijuana laws. The American Medical Association doesn’t support them, either.
Groups representing patients aren’t behind these laws. The American Cancer Society hasn’t demanded them, and the Glaucoma Foundation even warns patients against using the drug.
Instead, the demand comes from groups like the Drug Policy Alliance and Marijuana Policy Project. These are not medical organizations. They are part of a pro-legalization lobby supported by pro-marijuana billionaires. And they’ve apparently persuaded state legislators to ignore some very serious problems.
The biggest problem is that medical marijuana laws are responsible for most of the growth in adolescent use. According to the University of Michigan’s Monitoring the Future survey, teen use in the United States surged between 2005 and 2011. But it didn’t surge equally in all states.
Data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) shows that the number of teens who smoked pot over the past month increased by 33 percent in medical marijuana states, but only by 6 percent in the rest of the country.
There’s also evidence that even among adults, nearly all the “medical” marijuana goes to drug abuse. The largest survey of medical marijuana patients, published in 2014 in the Journal of Global Drug Policy and Practice, found that only 6 percent reported using marijuana for cancer, AIDS, glaucoma, Alzheimer’s, Crohn’s, Hepatitis C or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. The vast majority – 91 percent – got their marijuana for pain.
Research shows that most chronic pain patients are women. In 2001, the journal Pain published a study by researchers who interviewed more than 17,000 people and found that 54 percent of those with chronic pain were female. On the other hand, five years of NSDUH data showed that adult marijuana abusers were 69 percent male. Between 2011 and 2013, I contacted all of the state medical marijuana programs and got data from seven. In all but one of the states, 64 to 74 percent of the pain patients were male. These numbers are nowhere near what we would expect from a cross-section of legitimate pain patients.
While some seriously ill patients are helped by marijuana, there are four prescription cannabinoid medications that are just as helpful. Two of these, Marinol and Cesamet, are available by prescription. A third, Epidiolex, or pure cannabidiol, is available for children with seizures through a special Food and Drug Administration program. The fourth, Sativex, is in the last stages of approval. Some of these medicines have fewer side effects than marijuana and are longer-acting, which means they are better for patients who don’t want to be stoned all the time.
If we want to rein in teen marijuana use and prevent widespread abuse of the drug, instead of passing new state medical marijuana laws, we should get rid of the ones we already have.
Ed Gogek, M.D., is an addiction psychiatrist and author of the book, “Marijuana Debunked: A handbook for Parents, Pundits and Politicians Who Want to Know the Case Against Legalization.”