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To ease pain, suffering

opinion / Columns
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Editorial

To ease pain, suffering

/ 01:55 AM August 22, 2015

We presume doctors and medical personnel to be open-minded people. Along with scientists, after all, they operate in the realm of fact, empirical evidence, observable phenomena—what can be proven through their diagnosis of symptoms and indications, or extracted from rigorous, peer-reviewed research in the laboratory. Against a mysterious ailment, or an unknown disease, a health professional is called upon to think through all the possibilities, to reject nothing outright and to keep an open mind to better understand the condition before him or her. The great strides in health and medicine throughout history were made by men and women who broke the mold and went for the unconventional—and the case for medical marijuana appears to follow these lines.

Marijuana, or the cannabis plant, is known to have been used as a form of medicine by many ancient cultures, for its ability to dull pain, control muscle spasms, help improve sleep and rest, and fight nausea. But its adverse effects are also well-known. The US National Institute on Drug Abuse maintains that marijuana use is addictive, and can lead to hallucinations, breathing problems, impaired body movement and memory, even paranoia and schizophrenia among long-term users. Its potential to cause harm when used indiscriminately is backed by solid research, hence its continuing illegal status in many countries.

But in the last decade or so, the notion that marijuana can have beneficial effects when used in a controlled medical setting has gained ground. European countries—the Netherlands, Spain, Portugal, Austria, Germany, Finland, the Czech Republic, Italy—have led the way by allowing the medicinal use of cannabis. Canada and Israel have also passed similar laws. In America, 23 states, along with Washington DC, have legalized the practice, following California’s lead as early as in 1996 to allow patients and their caregivers to access cannabis for medical purposes, under strict regulation but now without the threat of prosecution previously attached to the mere possession of the weed.

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Time magazine reports that “there is only moderate-quality evidence supporting the benefits of medical marijuana, and only for certain conditions,” based on a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. “The strongest trials supported cannabinoids’ ability to relieve chronic pain, while the least reliable evidence involved things like nausea and vomiting from chemotherapy, sleep disturbances and Tourette syndrome.”

And it is in that area—the relief of pain and suffering—that medical marijuana has found its most persuasive foothold. Doctors and other medical personnel in Europe apparently listened to their patients who had long suffered from chronic pain and other debilitating symptoms of illness, and found through research that marijuana, when used as an alternative medicine under regulated conditions, could alleviate certain of those symptoms. In America, the weed itself has not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration as medicine, but extracts and chemicals from it have found their way to FDA-approved medications.

Should the Philippines adopt the practice? Local doctors are at loggerheads on the issue. At least 11 medical groups led by the Philippine Medical Association are opposing a bill that seeks to legalize the compassionate hospital use of the drug. However, another set of doctors led by former health secretary Jaime Galvez-Tan is batting for its passage, arguing that many cancer and epileptic patients, burdened by the high cost of their ailments and the required standard medicine, can benefit from the alternative treatment that may, at the very least, help ease their pain and suffering.

Galvez-Tan called the pending legislation “long overdue.” Dr. George Ignacio, chair of the Philippine General Hospital’s Cancer Institute, challenged his colleagues opposing the bill to “leave [their] comfort zones” by opening their minds to the growing body of international research on the subject.

Those opposed to the bill have expressed fear that allowing greater access to marijuana for medical use would lead to abuse, given the notoriously lax regulatory environment in the country. That is a valid concern. But the cries of countless patients and their families seeking an alternative remedy to their condition cannot also be overlooked, in the face of a medical development that more advanced countries have seen fit to approve for their citizens. The time has come for the Philippines to seriously consider the idea.

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TAGS: cannabis, health, marijuana, medical marijuana, medicine
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