Moderated by Tom Sabulis
Georgia legislators are currently considering a rapidly changing bill that would improve access to a form of “medical marijuana.” Today, a local House representative emphasizes the need for research before creating any law that could open the floodgates of a “pot mill” epidemic. In our lead column, a local teenager suffering from Crohn’s Disease writes about the need to allow the afflicted to use marijuana to help alleviate pain. Stay tuned. Things could change in a hurry.
Commenting is open.
By Eli Hogan
I am 17 years old and I suffer from severe Crohn’s Disease, a chronic inflammatory disease of the gastrointestinal tract. I have struggled with this disease for two years now, and spent my Christmas vacation at Scottish Rite in Atlanta full of IVs, being fed through a catheter run under my bicep into my chest cavity, in agonizing pain, losing blood, and on the verge of needing a total removal of my colon. I dropped from 170 pounds to 135, all on a 6’2 frame.
Medical cannabis has great potential to help people like me. According to studies in respected publications such as the Journal of Endocrinological Investigation and the Journal of Molecular Medicine, cannabis assists in wound healing in the intestines, as well as regulating peristalsis in the gut, suppressing acid reflux, and pre-emptively protects against further damaging inflammation.
In addition, it shows promise as a painkiller — Crohn’s and related disorders are excruciatingly painful when the disease is active, to the point of being completely disabling. However, as well as being highly addictive, heavy-duty painkillers like morphine have negative effects on the contractions of intestinal muscle and can therefore worsen Crohn’s Disease flares. I personally refused morphine during my hospital stay not only due to these frightening effects, but due to fear of addiction. Obviously, cannabis was not available in any form, so I simply took a weaker painkiller and toughed it out.
I don’t use marijuana in any form. I fear my life will be ruined if I am caught, as the justice system doesn’t often differentiate (or even think there’s a valid distinction) between a “lazy stoner” and someone simply desperate for relief from an incurable illness that has plagued them for years and will plague them until they die. This is shameful and immoral. The debate on this subject is going to heat up in coming years as more and more states legalize medical marijuana. My plea is that opponents of medical marijuana in this state will consider the words of Representative Allen Peake (R-Macon) after recently visiting a girl whose family is fleeing to Colorado to receive cannabis-derived medication for their daughter’s seizures: “If it was my child I’d be crawling over broken glass to get legislation passed, as would any legislator who’s here. Why can’t we as a state be compassionate enough to look at what makes sense?”
Where is the compassion for people like us? Nobody reading this would hesitate to take hydrocodone or morphine if they were in severe pain for months on end. Yet if someone wants to avoid the potential for addiction or the acute negative effects these drugs can have on the course of their disease, their concern is often belittled and mocked as a druggie’s front. I face a lifetime of harsh intravenous immunosuppressants with side effects ranging from lupus to rheumatoid arthritis to extremely rare, incurable lymphomas just to keep my disease under control.
I am fearful for my financial future, as without insurance, treatments to keep me alive total well over $100,000 a year. I ask anyone reading this to think of their own children facing the kind of pain and suffering and uncertainty about the future that those of us who are candidates for medical cannabis go through every day. Crohn’s patients, cancer and arthritis sufferers, those whose bodies have been ravaged by multiple sclerosis, we are all desperate for some kind of relief that doesn’t just cause us more problems.
I am not someone looking for a quick high. I am a 4.0 student bound for the Kennesaw State University Honors College in the fall. I’m my school system’s Star Student representative to the PAGE Foundation. I’m a churchgoer, I volunteer my time to organizations outside of school. I am not someone making excuses to get high, and most of my fellow advocates aren’t either. We’re normal peopleasking for a little compassion from those that have a little better luck in the health department than we do.
I come before those who oppose my right to protect my vitality not as some Great Satan or boogeyman who wants to destroy the morality of the nation or get everyone hooked on drugs. I come before all simply wanting to be healthy again.
Eli Hogan, 17, lives in Cartersville.
By Sharon Cooper
“The road to Hell is paved with good intentions,” and that old adage certainly fits a scenario playing out in the Georgia General Assembly.
House Bill (H.B.) 885 titled “Haleigh’s Hope Act” – better known around the Gold Dome as the “medical marijuana” bill – began as a tightly drawn bill to provide children with intractable seizures access to an oil derived from a specific marijuana strain only available in Colorado.
This little-known product “manufactured” by a group of marijuana-growing siblings – not physicians or scientists – gained national notoriety thanks to CNN’s special called “Weed” and anecdotal reports by families of their children’s seemingly “miraculous cures.” As we studied this bill, we found that this oil hasn’t been tested for purity or consistency, and it hasn’t been tested in animals.
Parents desperate to alleviate their children’s suffering are petitioning legislatures to change state laws to allow the importation or production of this product known as Charlotte’s Web oil.
Even though the feds seem to be using Colorado and Washington State as “mini laboratories” to gauge the effects of full legalization, they gave both states strict rules to follow. Rule #1: It’s illegal to transport marijuana across state lines, whether exporting or importing. Break the rules, and the feds will swoop in. Colorado amnesty only extends to their state lines.
HB 885 has been rewritten several times. Children and adults with any type of seizures, even minor ones, are now included. At one point, a single academic medical center would grow marijuana and produce the oil for clinical trials. That’s out because our universities cannot legally be involved in growing, producing, or testing of illegal, non-FDA approved substances.
Since industrial hemp products aren’t intended for human use as “medicine” and research universities cannot approve the use of non-FDA approved products, two provisions allowing hemp cultivation for the oil and the use of non-profit dispensaries to grow and produce it were also nixed.
The latest version says we won’t prosecute approved patients and caregivers having a Georgia prescription if they possess the oil in our state. Even so, Colorado won’t recognize a Georgia physician’s prescription for any form of marijuana, and Colorado and the Feds still agree it’s illegal to remove this oil from that state. Our law could even unintentionally shut down the production of Charlotte’s Web.
One major question lingers: with the threat of malpractice lawsuits, will Georgia physicians continue to be responsible for the treatment of patients taking such a product? Unregulated, copy-cat versions are out there. A Georgia house painter is ready to sell his.
When you talk about growing marijuana, authorizing dispensaries, or decriminalization, you’re talking the language of those wanting full legalization. “All-inclusive” medical marijuana bills are the first step. Although some chemicals in marijuana may have medicinal value, marijuana itself isn’t medicine. We just clamped down on Georgia’s pill mills, but “loosey goosey” medical marijuana programs with bogus medical ailments could become a “pot mill” epidemic.
Marijuana is a gateway drug. Research shows marijuana causes addiction in 9% of people who try it; 17% of adolescents who try it; and 25% to 50% of daily users. Persistent use during adolescence and into adulthood can result in an eight-point drop in I.Q., enough to plunge someone of average intelligence into the bottom third of the I.Q. scale.
The fate of HB 885 is still unknown, but there’s hope for these children. Epidiolex® is derived from marijuana and FDA-approved for a type of compassionate program available to children with severe seizures where every child gets the real medicine. Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta has been wonderful and is exploring participation in such a program. Let’s encourage other research centers to do the same.
Sharon Cooper, R-Marietta, is chairman of the Georgia House Health and Human Services Committee.