As the House of Delegates is spending the weekend reading and fixing the fine print of medical marijuana legislation, we can think of myriad reasons why our elected representatives should give their stamp of approval this week. But perhaps, once and for all, we can bury the the notion that marijuana is an evil weed and a gateway drug that shares in the downfall of society.
It is none of that.
Here’s what it is: A plant that has certain medicinal properties that have proven to help people deal with chronic pain, overcome eating disorders, and experience fewer epileptic seizures.
Here is what it is not: A cure for cancer. Rather, it provides doctors another prescription option that – in the case of a cancer patient – alleviates the pain and nausea associated with chemotherapy.
Medical marijuana has many applications, but having a track record for attacking pain is powerfully persuasive in a state that leads the nation in the rate of opioid overdose deaths.
In a series of stories in The Register-Herald earlier this year, one West Virginia, woman, Amanda Toothman, recalled how marijuana – not morphine, not Percocet, not Tramadol – provided her immediate relief from excruciating pain brought about by a double mastectomy.
“Once I became completely desperate and nothing else was helping, including legal and pharmaceutical options, I felt like I had no other choice,” she told reporter Wendy Holdren.
Toothman, by breaking state law, was fortunate. Not so for others.
Francie Floyd, another West Virginian, has suffered epileptic seizures since early childhood. She is now 40.
A pill box sits on her dining room table. In it are a handful of meds for morning and another handful for night. She carries prescriptions for three anticonvulsants, Topamax, Keppra and Vimpat, which come with a host of side effects – loss of bone density, aphasia (loss of ability to understand or express speech), lack of energy, hair loss, dry mouth and loss of appetite.
And the recipe is forever changing as her body grows tolerant to the latest cocktail of anticonvulsants.
“Right now, I’m dealing with so many side effects from the meds I’m on and they aren’t helping me.”
And yet, there is evidence that cannabidiol oil, an extract of the marijuana plant that is not psychoactive, can reduce the number and severity of seizures.
Floyd holds a college degree, she reads, and she knows all about Charlotte Figi, a five-year-old who had been experiencing 300 seizures a day – until she was treated with CBD oil. Then it was two or three seizures a day.
Charlotte is now a 9-year-old in her first full year of school – the second grade.
Floyd wishes she had access to the medicine.
“I wouldn’t be in this nightmare situation,” she told Holdren. “I’m sick of being overmedicated. I’m sick of having seizures. I’m sick of the list of things these medications do to you.”
Toothman and Floyd have their stories, but they are not alone. Just last year, 818 Mountaineers died of a drug overdose, and 703 of those deaths involved at least one opioid.
And as if to drive the point home that the state needs alternatives to current prescribing habits, the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources plans to distribute more than 8,000 naloxone rescue kits this year.
Naloxone can save someone who has overdosed. It is, to be kind, a back-end fix for a culture of dependency.
Legalized medical marijuana, on the other hand, offers another option for doctors – and patients – thus lessening exposure and risk to opioids.
By all appearances, medical marijuana legislation is going to pass the House of Delegates. It has already passed the Senate by a commanding 28-6 vote. Gov. Jim Justice said he will sign the bill lickity-split.
For many – like Toothman and Floyd and the thousands of our neighbors – the prescription could not come soon enough.