Medical marijuana is looking set for application in a number of hospitals across New York. According to advocates briefed on the latest plan of action, Governor Andrew Cuomo intends to permit specific hospitals to treat select patients with medical marijuana.
New York to Join the Likes of Washington and Colorado?
The new proposals signal a possible revival of the 1980 medical marijuana law. It is anticipated that Cuomo – who is up for re-election in 2014 – will make an announcement over the issue on Wednesday Jan. 8, 2014, during the State of the State address. Officials claim Cuomo will use his executive powers to authorize 20 hospitals across the state to dispense medical marijuana, bypassing State Legislature.
However, much uncertainty remains over precisely how the new plans will be implemented, which patients would be eligible for treatment and which hospitals would be given license to dispense medical marijuana. Thus far, the selection criteria is yet to be announced.
State Assemblyman Richard Gottfried – a leading advocate of greater legislation on medical marijuana – recently explained that he was introduced to the proposals on Saturday, along with the governor’s staff. Gottfried, although admitting the program would have limitations, articulated his enthusiasm for the new plans to CNN:
“I’m thrilled that the governor has taken this action… This is a very key interim step.”
Medical marijuana is starting to gain acceptance across certain parts of the United States. Twenty states and the District of Columbia now permit its use, in some form. In 2012, Washington became the very first state to legalize marijuana in state law for adult recreational use, assuming it remained within the confines of residents’ homes; Colorado shortly followed suit and, as of Jan. 1, the sale of marijuana to individuals over 21 was legalized.
Cuomo’s decision would not fully legalize marijuana, however, and would fall short of laws introduced in Washington and Colorado. In addition, marijuana users remain concerned over the latest program would be too restrictive, solely limiting its use to terminally ill patients.
However, according to The New York Times, an administration official explained that the 1980 medical marijuana law did not limit treatment to the terminally ill, suggesting that conditions like multiple sclerosis, cancer and severe pediatric illness could, potentially, qualify.
The anonymous official alleges the law will be considered a research program, aimed at exploring the most suitable system for dispensing medical marijuana. Under the new scheme – to become dispensaries – hospitals would need to submit applications to the State Health Department.
The news also comes as a surprise U-turn for Cuomo, who, in the past, had publicly expressed opposition to application of medical marijuana. New York State Director of the Drug Policy Alliance Gabriel Sayegh spoke about the Cuomo administration’s plans, following a briefing on Saturday:
“This is a huge turning point… One of the most powerful and prominent governors in the country not only changed his mind, but has also said he’s not going to wait around for the Senate to act.”
Therapeutic Impact of Medical Marijuana
Marijuana has been used for medicinal purposes for numerous years. A number of cannabinoid medicines are already employed across the United States and Canada, including dronabinol and nabilone, while medical marijuana can be obtained through statewide programs and cannabis dispensaries.
While many anecdotal stories circulate over the beneficial, therapeutic impact of marijuana, the number of clinical studies supporting the safety and efficacy of smoked cannabis continues to rise. Research has shown that medical marijuana (a.k.a. medical cannabis) may offer beneficial effects for cancer patients, as well as individuals suffering from glaucoma, epilepsy and a host of other medical ailments.
Clinical trials have found some benefit to utility of marijuana for treatment of multiple sclerosis-associated pain and spasticity, chronic neuropathic pain and weight loss in patients with cancer, HIV/AIDS and anorexia nervosa.
Studies have also shown the drug’s potential use in treating chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting (CINV); however, somewhat paradoxically, excessive marijuana use has been known to trigger hyperemesis, or chronic cyclic vomiting.
The American Glaucoma Society notes that marijuana can offer benefit to glaucoma sufferers – a condition typically characterized by an increase in fluid pressure within the aqueous humour of the eye, resulting in optic neuropathy. However, the organization stipulates that marijuana only provides short-term relief, lasting a duration of three to four hours, meaning it would need to be smoked regularly to alleviate symptoms on a consistent basis. They go on to outline a variety of additional disadvantages, which include deleterious effects on the lungs, mood swings and a reduction in maximum mental capacity during use.
A 2007 review, published in the journal Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience, highlighted marijuana’s potential application in treating a host of neurodegenerative diseases, including Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s disease and Tourette syndrome.
On the other hand, a 2008 review of safety studies on medical cannabinoids, entitled adverse effects of medical cannabinoids: a systematic review, found that short-term use of existing medical cannabinoids could increase risk of “nonserious adverse events.” The review found the long-term consequences of medical marijuana use to have been poorly documented; however, the authors indicate the most severe adverse events to involve respiratory and gastrointestinal pathologies and disorders of the nervous system. Ultimately, for many of the afore-mentioned disorders, research has been severely limited.
CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Sanjay Gupta was initially a staunch opponent of medical application of marijuana. However, during an in-depth article, Gupta sought to explain the basis for his recent change in stance towards the controversial drug.
During an investigation into “anti-marijuana” and “pro-marijuana” studies from the U.S. Library of National Medicine’s database, he established that just six percent of journals explored the medicinal benefits of marijuana. The reason for this finding, according to Gupta, was two-fold. Firstly, research study approval is overseen by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) – an organization that, at its heart, aims to discourage marijuana use. Secondly, researchers can face significant hurdles in obtaining samples of the drug for research purposes, as a result of stringent legal restrictions.
By James Fenner