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At Large

Clear thinking on marijuana

/ 05:20 AM November 19, 2017

Back in the day, it was said that when parents first entered their home where their teenage children had hosted a party, the first thing they would do was to sniff the air, and then the curtains, cushions, sofas — anywhere smoke was likely to linger — to detect the distinctive odor of marijuana.

Never mind if the atmosphere was permeated with the equally distinct smell of cigarette smoke, or that empty bottles of liquor and beer littered the garbage bins and were stashed even in hidden corners and under the beds.

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This is because, even if they are equally addictive and produce much the same destructive behavior, cigarettes and liquor have come to be acceptable social lubricants that ease social interaction, release inhibitions, and make one look “cool.” But marijuana or, to go by its scientific name, cannabis? That’s for drug heads.

Now that more vicious and dangerous drugs proliferate — from the high-end cocaine to down-market shabu — marijuana has lost much of its menacing reputation. Derived from the cannabis plant, marijuana leaves or “weed” is either smoked, “vaped,” or eaten. By many accounts, it produces in the user a feeling of calm, mellowness, a free-floating sensation that numbs pain and emotion. Indeed, the use of marijuana to ease the symptoms of many illnesses has become increasingly common. Claims range from helping fight glaucoma, controlling epileptic seizures, slowing Alzheimer’s, to easing multiple sclerosis pain, treating inflammatory bowels, relieving arthritis pain, and helping patients get through chemotherapy.

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When Rep. Rodolfo Albano III authored House Bill No. 6517 or the “Philippine Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act,” many patients rejoiced, especially those who were living with chronic long-term pain who were in peril of becoming addicted to pain-killing drugs.

But last Nov. 7, the Philippine Medical Association, the country’s largest group of doctors, issued a statement opposing the legalization of medical marijuana, warning that the bill “could lead to the diversion of cannabis for recreational use.”

In a press conference, several groups representing doctors and allied medical organizations expressed their opposition to the bill, saying that, according to an Inquirer report, the use of marijuana for medical purposes was “already provided for in the mandate of existing regulatory agencies and authorities.” The groups also reportedly raised questions on the safety and efficacy of marijuana, saying marijuana use could be abused “should people be given wide access to it.”

In response, Albano said of the doctors’ group that “they are not listening because they have a very narrow perspective and [are] very ignorant on marijuana and the bill itself.”

In a statement, Albano reminded opponents that the bill “explicitly provides that the [Department of Health] in consultation with the [Food and Drug Administration] shall be the principal regulatory agency for the use of medical cannabis.”

Indeed, the bill provides for further studies and research by reputable research institutions that follow the National Ethical Guidelines for Health Research issued by the government in 2006.

Added Albano: “These guidelines include seven criteria for ethical clearance of a research protocol that includes the ‘nature and gravity of the risk to human subjects; the adequacy of safeguards and protection against risk; the magnitude of potential benefits or harm to individuals or community; and the validity of the study participants’ informed consent.’ All applications for clinical trial proposals submitted to FDA pass through the (IRB/ERB) for conduct, ethical and technical review. The FDA must approve all four phases of the clinical trial. There is thus absolutely no basis for the claim that ‘this human experiment under the guise of law requires no informed consent, no approval from a professional Institutional Review Board, no protection from our drug regulatory agency and no recourse for unfavorable consequences.’”

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Marijuana may have had bad press through the years, but medical doctors should know better than to make judgments based only on personal beliefs and prejudices.

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