Low Chance to Get High at New York's Medical Marijuana Dispensaries

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Screen Shot 2016-01-08 at 10.58.50 AMWill medical marijuana claims go up in smoke? Given the move toward legalization, and accompanying increase in use, the answer is certainly yes for many of them, primarily because medical marijuana has been touted as a treatment for such a wide variety of conditions many of them completely unrelated that it is virtually impossible that it can live up to the hype.

For example, according to a 2014 article in Business Insider, there have been at least 23 medical claims concerning the utility of marijuana and/or its components. Here they are:

Glaucoma, lung health (reversing the carcinogenic effects of tobacco), epilepsy, Dravet's Syndrome, metastasis/killing cancer cells, anxiety, nausea, pain, progression of Alzheimer's, MS symptoms, muscle spasms, efficacy and tolerability of interferon-based hepatitis C treatment (now irrelevant), inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn s, ulcerative colitis), alleviate arthritis symptoms. preventing weight gain by improving sugar metabolism, Lupus, Creativity" in the brain, Parkinson s, PTSD, brain damage after a stroke, concussions, nightmares and alcoholism.

Perhaps I'm biased, but after 27 years of pharmaceutical research, I have never seen a single drug that treats 23 conditions, many of which are unrelated. To find one, you would need to watch Peter Pan:

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Fairy dust

Does pot or any of its active ingredients work for all of these? Any of these?

Thanks to New York State legislators, we may get an answer.

In 2014, governor Andrew Cuomo Jr. signed a law called the Compassionate Care Act, which enabled the opening of medical marijuana dispensaries that permit patients with certain diseases or conditions to obtain marijuana, or its active components. There are eight dispensaries that have either opened, or will do so shortly.

But, these centers are not places to go get high, nor are they the stuff of Seth Rogen movies, prescriptions being a pretense to smoke marijuana legally. Quite the opposite. New York State's program is set up, using the following criteria, to "weed out" (sorry) people who are simply looking for another way to get stoned:

  • Patients must obtain a certificate from a physician stating that they suffer from one of a number of approved conditions
  • The doctors must be capable of treating patients with these conditions, and also must complete a four-hour training course
  • Marijuana cannot be smoked. The drug may be given orally or by inhalation using an inhaler.

State officials also did a good job in separating the "crazy" claims from ones that are medically plausible. This was a solid move on the part of the legislature because it is impossible that a drug that treats both cancer and the nausea from cancer chemotherapy, while also offering protection of the lungs from cigarette smoke, slowing Alzheimer's and preventing concussions.

Rather, the law limits the allowable conditions to those that primarily affect the central nervous system, a good test case for marijuana, since the active components in pot are psychotropic (affecting the brain) and there is good reason to believe they could have an impact on central nervous system symptoms.

The conditions/diseases and effects are defined:

"Cancer, HIV infection or AIDS, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injury with spasticity, epilepsy, inflammatory bowel disease, neuropathy, and Huntington's disease."

And the effects associated with these conditions that may plausibly be treated with marijuana are:

"Cachexia (wasting), severe or chronic pain, severe nausea, seizures, or severe or persistent muscle spasms."

In other words, New York's approach to the compassionate use of marijuana-based drugs is restrictive enough to make it as close to evidence-based as possible.

Not only will this deter the stoners it is too much trouble to go through this program just to get high but it will also help determine which conditions marijuana may actually help. Finally, a program will contribute to the body of medical evidence on medical marijuana, since patients will be evaluated for whether the treatment actually works.

While this may be good for science and medicine, it is unlikely to be so good for companies that were looking to profit from this initiative. Quite the opposite, really.

Those who were expecting these dispensaries to be places to go and get high are going to get low instead - any companies hoping the giant New York City market would be a gold mine for legal marijuana are going to be disappointed. After two days of operation only 51 people have been certified for the program. The Mexican drug lords won't be losing sleep over this.

But what seems to be a certain financial flop may turn out to be rather successful in separating medical fact from science fiction in the marijuana world.