Ease Patients' Suffering with Access to Medical Marijuana: A Cancer Survivor's Story

April 30, 2007

Cole Krawitz, Huffington Post

This May, I will celebrate living cancer free for eleven years. I'm the first of three generations in my family to survive cancer following chemotherapy and radiation. As more young cancer survivors live on, we also face new health challenges. Last month I had surgery for endometriosis, a painful reproductive and immunological disease affecting over 7 million women and girls in the U.S., leaving me with chronic pain, affecting my ability to walk and live my daily life.

We all have these stories of our own experiences, or watching friends and family suffer from debilitating illnesses for months and years. We also know the lengths we would go to ease their pain and suffering.

For this reason, support for medical marijuana is overwhelming in Connecticut.

A 2004 UCONN poll revealed that 83% of all Connecticut residents believed doctors should have the ability to recommend marijuana to their patients. Over the past three years, advocacy groups, numerous politicians, the Connecticut Nurses Association and more than 500 doctors have expressed strong support for passing medical marijuana legislation.

Support for medical marijuana is not limited to Connecticut . Over the last ten years, twelve states have passed laws supporting safe access to medical marijuana. Seriously ill residents of Vermont , Rhode Island and Maine have access to doctor recommended marijuana, and a bill in New Jersey is likely to pass this session with 86% constituent support.

Earlier this month, Gov. Bill Richardson signed a compassionate use bill in New Mexico, making him the first presidential candidate to actively support medical marijuana. But here in Connecticut, we haven't gotten it right -- yet.

A bipartisan team of legislators, led by Rep. Penny Bacchiochi (R-Somers), has introduced HB 6715, the Compassionate Use bill. Similar bills almost passed in 2004 and 2005, but were blocked in the final stretch.

Without an effective medical marijuana law in Connecticut , patients and caregivers who use marijuana to alleviate pain will face prosecution. The American Cancer Society estimates that over 17,000 new cases of cancer will be diagnosed in Connecticut this year alone -- add over 14,000 people currently living with HIV/AIDS, and the need for effective pain management options becomes evermore apparent.

When I began chemotherapy, I was knocked out from severe nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Before long my blood counts were so low I was injecting daily booster shots to keep my blood generating. My body had gone into complete shock. My veins shut down. I couldn't bend my left elbow. Severe nausea left me unable to eat or drink water, and after my second treatment, I was hospitalized with no white blood cells to defend my body against a common cold.

We learn to live with pain when we are sick, but we rely on effective pain management options. Doctor prescribed medical marijuana makes these options better.

Opponents to medical marijuana state that patients are already prescribed Marinol, a synthesized version of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), just one of the 60 active chemical compounds found in marijuana.

Studies have shown, however, that smoking marijuana has different effects than oral administration of Marinol, which many patients and physicians have determined is not as effective as marijuana. Furthermore, Marinol only comes as an oral dose of pure THC, making it difficult to regulate the intensity of the effects. Smoking marijuana allows patients to regulate the dose needed to address symptoms without feeling drugged.

Not only is medical marijuana effective, it's substantially more affordable. Marinol is almost twice the cost.

During times of illness, the ability to manage our pain and the pain of our loved ones is invaluable. Connecticut 's medical marijuana bill gives doctors another choice in caring for their patients who suffer from nausea, debilitating fatigue, pain, vomiting and grave weight loss. We need a law to protect patients, their doctors, and their caregivers from prosecution. We need compassion.

This legislative session, let's not allow HB6715 to get mired in political debates while our loved ones continue to suffer. Connecticut needs a workable medical marijuana law. In a 2005 debate about this bill, Rep. Melissa Olson (D-Norwich) remarked, "This bill is not about law and order, crime and punishment or legalizing drugs. This bill is about easing people's pain and alleviating human suffering."

As a cancer survivor, I couldn't agree more.


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