Patient Praises Marijuana

March 21, 2004

Naseem Sowti, The Central Florida Future

At first glace, Irvin Rosenfeld, a man of small stature and delicate features, seems as healthy as the young college students attending his speech Wednesday at the Student Union Key West Ballroom. The 51-year-old stockbroker is dressed in a sharp gray suit and speaks with such enthusiasm that it feels contagious.

But a small pin on the left lapel of his suit invites curiosity; it displays a marijuana leaf sitting on a red cross. Even more interesting is what lies beneath that pin, in the inside pocket of his jacket - a dozen nicely rolled marijuana cigarettes in a plastic bag.

As Rosenfeld pulls out the bag and holds it in his hand, some envious - almost hungry - students stare with their mouths half open, wondering if they will ever have such freedom.

Rosenfeld is no law enforcement agent, and the cigarettes do not come from the streets. He is a legal medical marijuana patient, and the federal government sends him the cigarettes. He receives a tin can of almost 300 marijuana cigarettes per month and smokes up to 12 per day. Moreover, he has permission to smoke marijuana anywhere he pleases.

Rosenfeld was born with a rare bone disorder called multiple congenital cartilaginous exostoses, which is characterized by bony protrusions (tumors), often occurring on the long bones of the body. One of these tumors has joined the tibia and fibula - the long bones of the lower leg - of his right leg, causing him to walk with a slight limp. Pointing to another protrusion at his wrist, Rosenfeld explains that the pressure these tumors exert against the surrounding muscles and veins makes his condition very painful. The tumors can also rupture nearby veins, causing internal bleeding, which could dislodge in the form of blood clots and become fatal.

No cure for this condition exists and patients are usually prescribed pain medication. Rosenfeld, on the other hand, stopped using those painkillers more than 21 years ago and has been using marijuana instead. Marijuana acts as a muscle relaxant and an anti-inflammatory agent in his body, alleviating the pain and pressure caused by the tumors. 'Because of this medicine, I am a working member of society and a tax payer,' Rosenfeld said.

Rosenfeld is one of only seven medical marijuana patients left in the United States. The medical marijuana movement started in 1976 when Robert Randall persuaded a federal court in Washington that his use of marijuana to treat his glaucoma was a medical necessity. At the same time, he petitioned the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for permission to use marijuana legally. In November of 1976, Randall became the first person in modern U.S. history to obtain legal and medical access to marijuana. In 1983, Rosenfeld became the second.

Rosenfeld's embrace of marijuana represents a turnaround. He was an advocate against marijuana in high school. He stood strong by his position for the first few semesters of college at the University of Miami until he realized that he would have a hard time finding 'buddies' unless he succumbed to smoking a joint. 'I never got a 'high' from the stuff though,' Rosenfeld said. 'I kept thinking, 'This is junk!''

However, he observed a change in his body after smoking marijuana. Due to his condition, he could not sit or stand for long periods of time and had to switch between the two positions every 10 minutes. After smoking a marijuana cigarette, he found he could sit for long periods without feeling any stiffness or pain, and he could stand for longer periods as well.

After his discovery, he immediately contacted his physician and started doing extensive research on the positive effects of marijuana. They finally sent the results of their research to the FDA and at the same time met with Randall. After years of legal battles, Rosenfeld won the right to smoke marijuana for the benefits it offered his health.

By the early '90s, a few others had gained legal access to marijuana as medicine, and Randall had established the Marijuana AIDS Research Service to help AIDS patients gain access to medical marijuana. However, the federal government abruptly shut the medical marijuana programs down. Only Randall and seven other early patients were grandfathered in and continued to receive legal medical marijuana. Randall succumbed to AIDS in 2001, leaving Rosenfeld the oldest patient of this program.

There has been much debate about medicinal marijuana. Marijuana is not a single drug. Rather, it is a mixture of the dried flowering tops and leaves from the plant cannabis sativa and is a variable and complex mixture of biologically active compounds. However, Cannabis sativa is a very adaptive plant, so its characteristics are more variable than most plants. This feature is one of the leading causes of inconsistency and uncertainty in scientific reports and research done with marijuana.

Marijuana contains more than 400 chemicals, 60 of which are called cannabinoids. THC is the main psychoactive cannabinoid in marijuana and is also the most thoroughly researched compound in this plant. In 1985, the FDA approved dronabinol (Marinol) - a synthetic form of THC - for treatment of nausea and vomiting associated with cancer chemotherapy. However, there is still debate regarding the differences between the effects of the crude plant and the pure constituents like THC.

Controlled studies also have been conducted to further understand the positive effects of marijuana on appetite stimulation, neurological and movement disorders, pain relief and glaucoma, but none have been done using the crude plant.

Extensive research also has been done on the negative effects of smoked marijuana. According to the FDA, National Institute of Health and the National Institute of Drug Abuse, marijuana can have adverse affects on the brain, heart, lungs, immune system and unborn fetuses.

Rosenfeld still opposes social use of marijuana. 'It is my tax money that is wasted arresting someone with possession charges,' he said. On the other hand, he is on a mission to bring awareness of its medicinal use to people; his visit to UCF was sponsored by the campus chapter of NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. 'The problem is that the government has not done any studies for marijuana,' Rosenfeld said. 'If we can change the laws, marijuana can be used medicinally.'

About 3.1 million Americans use marijuana on a daily or almost daily basis over a 12-month period, a recent survey by National Institute of Drug Abuse estimated; however, since 1992 no one has been allowed to prescribe it as medicine.

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