Trust cancer patients on medical marijuana

January 08, 2006

Dennis M. Clausen, Columnist, North County Times

In July, I wrote a column in support of medical marijuana. My response was based in part on the many cancer deaths in our family. My mother, father, sister and grandmother all died from cancer.

I did not plan to write another column on the issue. However, some Community Forums, letters to the editor and the county supervisors' lawsuit to overturn medical marijuana laws have motivated me to address the issue again.

Jeanne E. Williamson's Community Forum, "Supervisors add to cancer agony" (Nov. 21), brought back some painful memories. Williamson has battled cancer for three years and understands the agony of chemotherapy treatments "followed by continual vomiting and nausea." To Williamson and other cancer patients, the county supervisors are playing politics with human suffering.

Williamson's personal account of her battle with cancer was familiar.

My father lost almost 100 pounds before he died of cancer. Chemotherapy made it impossible for him to keep anything down. The relentless fear of vomiting was as frightening as the disease itself.

Pharmaceutical companies claim that their anti-nausea drugs are as effective as medical marijuana. Many cancer patients have written letters to the North County Times disputing this claim. Personally, I am more inclined to believe those who are in pain and find relief in medical marijuana than those who have much to gain financially from traditional cancer drugs.

Public support for medical marijuana is increasing every year. Nine years ago, 56 percent of California voters approved Proposition 215, which legalized medical marijuana. A California Field Poll in January 2004 reported that 74 percent of all respondents supported medical marijuana. An AARP poll in 2004 reported that 72 percent of respondents nationwide, regardless of political party, supported medical marijuana.

The reason so many Americans support medical marijuana is because cancer has replaced heart disease as the number one cause of death for Americans under the age of 85. Most American families have watched loved ones endure the devastating effects of cancer.

Supervisor Pam Slater-Price ("We're right to challenge marijuana law," Community Forum, Dec. 18) offers a legalistic defense of the supervisors' anti-medical marijuana position; she does not mention any personal experiences with cancer.

Conversely, Charles Wilder (Letters, Dec. 17) describes how his cancer-stricken father was able to get up and eat after using marijuana, even though he "hadn't been out of bed for more than two months." Retired nurse practitioner Claudia Little (Letters, Dec. 28) remembers many cancer patients who got relief from marijuana when they "couldn't hold down anything, let alone a pill to control vomiting." Nurse practitioner June Carter disagrees (Community Forum, Jan. 2). She claims that traditional anti-nausea "medications are excellent" and that "no one who is truly ill would jeopardize their health by smoking anything." Personally, I have never known a cancer patient to lie about what does or does not relieve pain and nausea. Nor have I met a cancer patient who is looking for a cheap high.

If cancer patients tell us medical marijuana relieves their nausea and enables them to eat, we should believe them.

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