By Dr. Robert Whitney
As a retired physician with over 35 years of experience in the addictions field and as a board member for the Erie County Council for the Prevention of Alcohol and Substance Abuse, I am writing in opposition to the proposed Senate bill (4406-B) that will legalize medical marijuana in New York State. There is not an adequate base of research that shows marijuana, in its most common form (smoked), is effective for treating any serious medical condition.
Therefore, no major group of medical experts supports the use of smoked marijuana for treatment of health problems. In a recent review, the director of the California Center for Medicine Cannabis Research stated that marijuana could be helpful in the treatment of nerve and spasm pain of multiple sclerosis, but stated other indications are less clear.
However, the National Multiple Sclerosis Society still does not support smoked marijuana as a treatment for MS. These findings are hardly a strong endorsement of widespread marijuana use for conditions such as psoriasis, diabetes, post-concussion syndrome and Alzheimer’s, which are authorized in this bill.
We do not have enough information to reliably estimate the safety of marijuana when used long term. Most studies to date have followed patients for very short periods of time, often less than a week. This is not adequate to assess risk of use for indefinite periods of time. We do know that marijuana can contribute to short- and possibly long-term brain impairment, motor vehicle accidents, risk of addiction and an increased risk of long-term psychosis in vulnerable people.
In addition, the bill states that the state Department of Health would ultimately determine which medical conditions would be authorized for treatment. It would be advised in this process by medical experts, citizens and members of the marijuana industry. Practicing physicians would then be able to determine which individuals could receive medical marijuana. Without an adequate existing knowledge base, how can these individuals make careful and informed decisions for their patients?
Also of concern is the fact that our state will continue to be pushed to expand the use of marijuana – not for health reasons, but for recreational use. All other jurisdictions that have opened the medical marijuana door have been subject to this problem. Hopefully we will wait to learn from the mistakes of others. I do, however, support Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s proposal to make marijuana available to patients with truly debilitating conditions with careful observation to measure effectiveness. We are asking our senators to weigh the benefits with the risks.
Dr. Robert Whitney is public policy chairman for the Erie County Council for the Prevention of Alcohol and Substance Abuse.