Gogek: States should steer clear of “medical” marijuana - East Valley Tribune: Opinion

Gogek: States should steer clear of “medical” marijuana

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Dr. Edward Gogek, MD, is an addiction psychiatrist and board member of KeepAZDrugFree, the committee opposing Arizona’s “medical” marijuana law

Posted: Thursday, April 19, 2012 10:49 am | Updated: 10:23 pm, Fri Apr 20, 2012.

Sixteen states now have “medical” marijuana laws, but many in these same states are now fighting back.

Citing increased crime and decreased property values, cities in California are fighting for the right to ban dispensaries. Hawaiian legislators are trying to restrict their marijuana law; Colorado already has. And in Montana, the legislature voted to repeal their law. It was spared by the governor’s veto.

There’s good reason for growing opposition. These programs are barely medical; the marijuana goes almost entirely to recreational use. That shouldn’t surprise anyone. The idea that smoking pot is medicine didn’t come from doctors or medical researchers. It came from the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), a group dedicated to legalization.

They say terminally ill people need access to “medicine.” However, once these laws pass, most “medical” marijuana users claim pain, not serious illness. In Arizona, 85 percent get their marijuana for pain. In Colorado and Oregon, it’s 94 percent.

Pain is a favorite complaint of drug addicts. It’s easy to fake and impossible to disprove. And there’s evidence that most marijuana patients are not telling the truth.

Two dozen studies have shown that more women than men seek help for chronic pain, whereas the latest National Survey of Drug Use and Health found that adult cannabis abusers are 74 percent male. Only two states report on the gender of their “medical” marijuana patients. In Arizona, 75 percent are male. In Colorado, it’s 69 percent.

How can these patients be mostly male if they’re almost all claiming pain, and pain patients are mostly female? Only if the vast majority are substance abusers who are just using medical complaints as an excuse.

Doctors try to screen out drug abusers, but most marijuana patients get their prescriptions from a handful of doctors who write marijuana recommendations to just about anyone who pays their fee. In Montana, eight doctors have written three-fourths of all the recommendations.

That’s why there’s a backlash. People feel hoodwinked. They voted for compassionate care, not drug abuse.

Besides, the medical benefit is overstated. Advocates claimed for years that marijuana can treat glaucoma, but the actual research disagrees. The Glaucoma Foundation warns patients that marijuana can damage the optic nerve and make glaucoma worse.

And “medical” marijuana has serious social side effects. An analysis of several studies, published this year in the British Medical Journal, found that drivers under the influence of marijuana had nearly twice as many serious and fatal car wrecks as non-users. Both California and Montana documented increased traffic fatalities caused by drivers with marijuana components in their bloodstreams, coinciding with increased use of “medical” marijuana.

The National Survey of Drug Use and Health shows that teenage marijuana use is 25 percent higher in “medical” marijuana states.

Teens who smoke pot do worse in school and worse in their careers. They also have twice the school drop-out rate of non-smokers. Teenage alcohol use, on the other hand, is only slightly correlated with dropping out. Advocates claim pot is not as bad as alcohol, but for teens who want to stay in school, marijuana is worse.

States without “medical” marijuana should count their blessings.

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