New York has become the latest state to legalize medical marijuana for treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”). New York will join 28 states and the District of Columbia which have already approved such use of medical marijuana. The news was widely celebrated by many veterans groups who have found their current treatments too severe or ineffective.
Veterans groups also hope this trend in state law will motivate change in federal law, which currently prohibits physicians engaged by the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs from prescribing medical marijuana to veterans for PTSD. Some commentators contend that evidence on the efficacy of medical marijuana has been inconclusive and therefore, the legalization of such treatment is premature, but clinical trials assessing the effectiveness of medical marijuana in treating PTSD are ongoing.
Researchers have been studying the effects of Cannabidiol (“CBD”), a marijuana extract claimed by some to be a “wonder drug” for treating children who suffer from severe epilepsy. CBD, which has also been used in to treat many different conditions including schizophrenia and anxiety, has been legalized in many states and others are considering legislation.
Early research of CBD has revealed mixed results. For example, Dr. Kevin Chapman, a neurologist at Children’s Hospital Colorado conducted a study of 75 children treated with CBD. He found a drop in seizures by at least half in 33% of the children. But, also found that 44% of the children had a negative response that included an increase in seizures.
However, GW Pharmaceuticals (“GW”) conducted a study focused on a “purified CBD extract” known as Epidolex as part of their program to treat resistant childhood epilepsies. The study revealed that of 58 participants, 40% had a decline in seizures, 10% of which became completely seizure-free, while one patient had an increase in seizures. (read more about Epidiolex and GW Pharmaceuticals follow the link http://www.wsj.com/articles/PR-CO-20150108-905340)
Currently, the Department of Health (“DOH”) has authorized three medical marijuana licenses for the entire state of New York. State Senator Diane Savino has been pushing DOH to issue additional licenses believing insurance companies and customers would benefit from more locations to fill marijuana prescriptions. She asserts that marijuana is a cheap alternative to many costly drugs and that each drug substituted is one less co-pay to be paid.
Recently, New York moved to legalize medical marijuana for patients suffering from various debilitating illnesses, including cancer, H.I.V./AIDS, and multiple sclerosis. Although studies have shown that marijuana use can be beneficial to patients suffering from such conditions by increasing appetite, treating nausea, and alleviating painful muscle spasms, research involving medical marijuana is limited. As a result, many medical marijuana laws, including New York’s legislation, include conditions for which the benefits of marijuana use have not been clinically established, such as Parkinson’s disease, Lou Gehrig’s disease, and epilepsy. This has lead even proponents of the medical marijuana movement to question whether New York’s legislation was the product of well-founded clinical judgment.
The first draft of Illinois’ new medical marijuana program incorporates strict standards. Under the new regulations, Illinois patients who receive medical marijuana must submit to fingerprinting and background checks and must pay $150 dollars with their applications for the requisite photo identifications.
Opponents claim that the fee for the photo identification, which is not covered by insurance plans, discriminates against cancer patients and the terminally ill, and may conflict with patients’ constitutional rights. In addition, Illinois requires these patients to choose between being treated with medical marijuana and owning a firearm, which could also pose a legal quandary for courts to resolve. However, St. Clair County Sheriff, Rick Watson, maintains that “a law like this needs to be strict,” and if society deems it is too strict at a later date, the legislature can amend the regulations as necessary.
Recently, Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York announced his plan to allow 20 hospitals state-wide to dispense medical marijuana to patients with cancer, AIDS and other severe illnesses. Gov. Cuomo’s proposal differs vastly from medical marijuana dispensation systems in other states. In other states licensed and independent producers dispense medical marijuana according to the recommendations of health care professionals.
Critics point out that the administration has not revealed which 20 hospitals would dispense the drug, or how the State would even obtain the drug. Some supporters of Gov. Cuomo’s proposal, such as Gabriel Sayegh, state director for Drug Policy Alliance, suggest that a more “comprehensive system” is required in order to make the proposal a reality. Gov. Cuomo’s current proposal is complicated by the fact that the federal government considers marijuana illegal. Some question whether having hospitals dispense an illegal drug would jeopardize the hospitals’ federal funding.
The Compassionate Care Act, a bill that would allow for a regulated medical marijuana program in New York, has support from New York City Comptroller John Liu. Mr. Liu released a report that over 100,000 NYC residents with serious, debilitating illnesses could benefit from the use of medical marijuana. Currently, twenty states, as well as the District of Columbia, have implemented programs that allow for regulated distribution of medical marijuana. According to a Siena poll conducted in May of 2013, approximately 82% of New York citizens support medical marijuana.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) granted Drexel University $3.3 million dollars to complete a five-year study on the effects of medical marijuana on young adults, ages 18 to 26. The study, led by Dr. Stephen Lankenau, an associate professor at Drexel’s School of Public Health, is called, “Medical Marijuana, Emerging Adults & Community: Connecting Health and Policy.” Dr. Lankenau seeks to determine the impact of medical marijuana dispensaries on the health of young adult patients. The study aims to discern whether and how marijuana operates as a “gateway” to other drugs; the influence of medical marijuana on young non-medical users; and what role the criminal justice system plays with regard to medical marijuana policy.