RAPID RESPONSE: Sick Utahns are not Lemmings

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Is Utah really ready to follow the other 23 states in implementing a medical cannabis program? Poll after poll of Utah citizens says “YES!"

In a March 2015 poll, conducted by Salt Lake City-based Y2 Analytics, 72% of Utahns support a medical cannabis program for individuals suffering from illness. 

Vickers, Daw and Fine, the authors of this most recent piece, suggest that the citizens of Utah are being lobbied to “accept an agenda that conflates anecdote with science…” and further suggest that medical cannabis (the scientific name for marijuana) groups “threaten(s) to undermine and topple those pillars of empirical science…” They say that legal and regulatory barriers have “prevented the much needed and long-overdue research necessary to determine the value of these plant-derived chemicals…” And although we do agree that the current, inappropriate, placement of cannabis on the federal Schedule I list of drugs has very much hampered much needed research at the level and frequency that cannabis currently demands, there is solid data on the medical, not ‘medical’, benefits of utilizing cannabis to address the symptoms of many disease states and the side-effects of taking many commonly prescribed medications.

I don’t know how these legislators have decided to define ‘scientists’, but in my world a scientist typically observes and listens to anecdotal evidence, they then develop hypotheses based on that anecdotal evidence, finally testing those hypotheses utilizing the tried and true scientific method.  In dozens of studies, this method has been carried out, across the US and across the globe, and we can confidently stand on this ever-growing body of scientific findings. States, like California, that currently have medical cannabis programs, have conducted double-blind, placebo controlled studies, the gold standards of said research, to show the positive medical benefits of cannabis as a treatment method.  This US-based research indicates that whole-plant cannabis is useful in the treatment of multiple illnesses and disease states.

It seems as if these three men would like to pull the wool over our eyes.  They say “we know very little about specificity of dose, frequency of use, relevance of route of administration, or other…features…” Yet it seems that they have decided to pick and choose which pieces of scientific literature, those that substantiate their point-of-view, all the while ignoring the extensive body of existing research that supports the use of cannabis is relieving pain and suffering. 

Here is just one example of many research pieces that meet their definition of solid research.  This particular article examines varying doses, frequency of use, route of administration and specific controls used while performing the research, all concerns that Vickers, Daw and Fine seem to have:

Low Dose Vaporized Cannabis Significantly Improves Neuropathic Pain

I listened to Senator Vickers and Representative Daw throughout the Interim legislative sessions speak to how they wanted to move slowly and cautiously in terms of any medical cannabis legislation in Utah and “do no harm” in the process. And if that is to be our standard, then we should look to the recently released CDC yearly totals for number of deaths associated with cannabis use. For 2015, they contributed a total of zero death to the use or abuse of cannabis. On the other hand a total of 17,465 people died from overdosing on illicit drugs like heroin and cocaine last year, while 25,760 people died from overdosing on prescription drugs, including painkillers and tranquilizers like Valium, according to those same CDC figures.  

As a medical cannabis patient myself, I resent their words telling me that only those who have “earned the privilege of expertise” should be able to influence health policy.  What about us, the patients, who find true and significant relief from this plant?  Don’t we matter, and matter most?  Maybe it is time to let the patients, together with their physicians, determine what the best ‘medical’ practices are for them. Perhaps a more compassionate way to look at this is not as a dangerous path to becoming “the lemmings state”, but instead as the leaders in actively and truthfully addressing our opioid overdose epidemic, the suffering of 1 out of 300 Utahns that have been diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis or the many patients experiencing the devastating and debilitating side-effects of cancer treatments. And at the same time, if we work diligently to establish a robust medical cannabis program here in Utah, we can become the true leaders for those patients who need it most. 

Kathy Dennis is the Secretary of the Drug Policy Project of Utah, a grandmother, and a chronic pain patient. Her daily struggle with osteoarthritis pain is documented through our patient stories campaign.