Cuts We Can’t Afford: Funding Federal Research into Medical Marijuana
The budget President Trump submitted to Congress for approval proposed a 5 billion dollar cut to the National Institutes of Health, part of the Department of Health and Human Services and one of the agencies responsible for overseeing ongoing medical research and innovation. Support from the federal government is crucial for the small number of medical marijuana studies overseen by the National Institute of Health and permitted by the Drug Enforcement Agency despite the drug’s Schedule I classification.
As of the 2016 election, 26 states have legalized medical marijuana, seven of which have also legalized recreational use of marijuana. In these states, patients experiencing conditions or symptoms including severe nausea, chronic pain, anxiety disorders and epileptic seizures are eligible to purchase marijuana at certain vendors with a doctor’s recommendation.
Even in states where recreational marijuana use is legalized, doctors aren’t permitted to write prescriptions for medical marijuana the way they would for any other drug. Giving a patient a cannabis-based prescription would be a violation of federal policy, which since 1971 has officially recognized marijuana as a Schedule I substance, as dangerous as heroin and methamphetamine. Marijuana’s classification makes it difficult to secure federal support for research exploring potential medical uses for marijuana.
Patients lose when their health professionals aren’t free to recommend the treatment of their choice. For certain conditions like severe epilepsy, access to cannabinoid medications can make the difference between leading a relatively independent lifestyle and requiring constant care. Even morally stringent states like Texas that embrace punitive anti-drug legislation sometimes make compassionate exceptions for patients with great need. More research into the potential therapeutic uses of marijuana is needed for patients whose quality of life requires the legality of and continued research into medical marijuana.
People looking for an alternative to prescription opioids may stand to gain the most from more research into medicinal uses of marijuana. For people with certain risk factors, taking an opioid-based prescription increases their likelihood of developing an addiction to opioids and eventually moving on to cheaper street drugs. Meanwhile, states that have legalized medical marijuana use have seen a dramatic decrease in the number of prescriptions for drugs including opioids that medical marijuana can replace and the number of opioid overdose deaths.
Medical marijuana is not an appropriate treatment for every condition. People with mental health conditions rooted in a traumatic experience may abuse marijuana because of its therapeutic effects on the symptoms of their condition, such as the hyper-arousal often present in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). However, no drug can cure the psychological pain associated with a traumatic experience, and psychotherapy is required to deal with the root issues associated with PTSD. Also, like many drugs, marijuana can be abused to the point of addiction.
The Trump administration can show its support for the public’s health and well-being by maintaining current levels of funding for the National Institutes of Health. The Institute’s continued research into the medical uses for marijuana, particularly for severe physical conditions and as an alternative to prescription opioids, are especially needed and timely. Hopefully Paul Ryan and other Congressional Republicans will prioritize the health care needs of millions of Americans over an empty political promise to shrink the federal programs so many need to live full lives.
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