Medical marijuana is one of the most hotly debated medical topics in the country. Many people question whether or not it is an appropriate pain medication, while others counter that it is just as safe as opioid medications and other prescription pain medications.
Arizona is the most recent state to legalize medical marijuana with a proposition passed in November, 2010. The Arizona Department of Health Services is tasked with overseeing the initiative, and will now be creating a database to track medical marijuana users and dispensaries and will be drafting the standards and rules for the program. The state will be home to 120 non-profit dispensaries, and will be able to issue 2.5 ounces of marijuana every 14 days to those with a medical identification card from their physician. Only those suffering from chronic and debilitating conditions will be able to receive the identification card from a physician. However, medical marijuana’s efficacy in treating chronic pain has been called into question.
“Medical Marijuana is extremely controversial,” Dr. Paul Lynch of Arizona Pain Specialists says. “The jury is still out on its benefits in a chronic pain setting; however, because the federal government does not recognize the use of marijuana it is very difficult for mainstream physicians to utilize marijuana in their practices. This is because the federal government is the one that gives physicians prescriptive authority by way of the Drug Enforcement Agency. Under this system marijuana is classified as a “Schedule I” drug, meaning it is defined as a substance with “no valid medical use.”
Operating under that standard will mean that obtaining a medical marijuana identification card will be difficult, if not impossible to obtain. Not only are general physicians limited in their ability to prescribe medical marijuana, but those who practice pain management may be against the use of this drug entirely.
“For those who practice interventional pain management, prescribing medical marijuana is an extremely complicated decision.” Dr. Tory McJunkin of Arizona Pain Specialists goes on to say, “at Arizona Pain Specialists, we focus on treating the source and causation of our patients’ pain through interventional procedures and complementary medicine. If possible we believe this is better solution to treat those who suffer from acute or chronic pain.”
Because medical marijuana is such a controversial topic, there have been very few formal research studies done on the efficacy of the drug in treating chronic pain. Any studies that have been performed have been largely self-reported. Because of this, it is difficult to make an informed and educated decision whether medical marijuana is a safe choice for chronic pain patients.
The side effects of marijuana include sleepiness, impaired short-term memory, decreased social inhibitions, motor impairment, increased appetite, and adverse effects on the hormonal system. There are over 200 street terms for marijuana, but common terms for marijuana including street slang terms are: pot, dope, weed, herb, reefer, ganga, Mary Jane, gangster, chronic, skunk, hash, THC, joint, and boom. Marijuana may be smoked, mixed into foods or brewed as a tea.
Medications currently used in treating chronic pain include non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) including aspirin and ibuprofen, acetaminophen (most commonly known as Tylenol ®) and opioids, including oxycodone (known as Oxycontin), oxymorphone, tramadol (known as Ultram), hydrocodone, hydromorphone (known as Dilaudid), fentanyl and morphine. Opioids can be used to treat cancer pain, acute pain, pain from a trauma, or chronic long-term pain, including arthritis and chronic back pain. Both legal and illegal opioid use in the United States has increased exponentially in the past ten years.
Some opioids may include acetaminophen, well-known drugs being Vicodin and Percocet. Side effects of opioids may include nausea, drowsiness, delayed motor capabilities, constipation, dizziness, addiction, and physical dependence.