If you are one of the 150,000 patients who have been identified as eligible to purchase marijuana for medical use in Texas, the answer to that question is “yes.” For all other Texans, the answer remains a firm and resounding “no.”
About two years ago, the state legalized the use of marijuana in the treatment of intractable epilepsy, and this month, patients will be able to legally purchase the drug to help manage seizures that they cannot control with the use of other medications.
Given the limited legal access to the drug, few are concerned that it will have a negative impact on the rates of marijuana use and abuse in Texas or a positive impact on the rates of illegal trafficking of marijuana through the state. In fact, a few weeks ago, a shipment of more than five tons of marijuana was seized in Tamaulipas, a state in northern Mexico, adding to the 17 tons of marijuana that has been intercepted by state authorities throughout 2017.
Many Texans, however, are on high alert as the drug becomes legally available even on this limited basis. Their concern is that this is only the beginning, the first step toward a more expanded legalized medicinal use of the drug and potentially one step closer to legalized recreational use of marijuana.
Is that fear justified? Or is it possible to allow for use of an illicit substance in moderation for medicinal use and leave it at that?
Medicinal vs. Recreational
Prescription painkillers are a good example of both the benefits and the pitfalls of legalizing an addictive drug for any use. While millions of people use painkillers every year successfully, treating acute pain without developing an addiction, tens of thousands end up physically and psychologically dependent on the drugs, and experience accidental overdose and/or a destructive addiction disorder. There is extreme risk associated with use of these medications.
- At the lowest dose possible
- With a brief prescription that lasts only a few days
- With a great deal of education on the risks of using the drug
- With regular follow-up appointments required for continued use of the medication
As a result, there are strict limitations on use, and doctors are required to start a new patient on these drugs:
Medicinal use of marijuana as it is used in the treatment of epilepsy comes with similar restrictions. It is not “free for all” access to marijuana plants with a “use as needed” method of dosing. Rather, the active ingredient in marijuana is extracted and given in a specific dose to treat seizures. Efficacy of the medication is easily measurable, making it a viable medical treatment. It is certainly far different than the broader spectrum “medical” use made available in some other states, but is it a precursor for looser regulations to come?
A Shifting Perspective
With legalization of marijuana for a range of uses, in Texas and across the country, there has been a slow and steady perspective shift on whether or not the drug is potentially harmful and therefore to be treated with respect, or harmless and safe to use in any manner. As more and more states began legalizing use of the drug for recreational purposes, rates of teens and other adults who view the drug as harmless have increased significantly and continue to increase every year. Many say that marijuana is less harmful than cigarettes or alcohol, and suggest that, if those are legal for any use with limited restrictions, then marijuana should be too.
However, with an increase in access to marijuana has come an increase in research and studies associated with the short-term and long-term effects of using the drug. Whether or not it is more or less harmful than cigarettes or alcohol is debatable since we do not yet have the long-term research on marijuana use, but it is clear that marijuana use is absolutely not harmless. Our most recent numbers suggest that as many as 30 percent of people who use marijuana regularly are living with a substance use disorder as a result. The only good news here is that all substance use disorders, no matter what the drug of choice is, are highly treatable.
Does someone you love need help getting marijuana use under control – legal or not? Is it time for you to find out more about options available in treatment?