Can cannabis help?
Story by Cassandra Brandt
Arizona legalized medical marijuana (MMJ ) in 2010. Now, more than 100,000 Arizona residents hold registry identification cards, also known as “green cards.” The cards allow them to purchase marijuana in various forms at state-regulated dispensaries or, grow their own medicine if they live at least 25 miles from a dispensary. An individual must be diagnosed with one of the statutory qualifying illness or disability symptoms by a qualified physician to obtain a referral for their card.
Marijuana is classified as a Schedule One controlled substance, meaning that, according to the FDA, it lacks medicinal value. However, some physicians posit that MMJ demonstrates medicinal value in treating pain and nausea associated with glaucoma, cancer and HIV. They point to studies that indicate it eases neuropathic pain and muscle spasticity in patients with paralysis and multiple sclerosis. Patients report using MMJ for anxiety and depression, insomnia, to increase appetite or soothe the side effects of chemotherapy drugs.
Pain management doctors will not prescribe narcotics to a patient if marijuana use is detected. Proponents believe it is a safe alternative to the harsh side effects of currently prescribed narcotics.
“There are many cannabinoids in the marijuana plant in addition to THC, including CBD, which offers the therapeutic benefits of marijuana without the psychoactive effects,” said Doug Paysee, chief operating officer of Encanto Green Cross, a Phoenix dispensary. “CBD combats pain and anxiety; it is most notably an effective anti-epileptic.”
For some MMJ users, avoiding a high-like sensation is important. Patients can find strains with a heavy CBD to THC ratio, thus minimizing the psychotropic sensation.
Pure CBD, legal without an MMJ card is sold in the form of liquid inhaled from a vape pen, tinctures (drops placed under the tongue) and lotions which can be applied directly to problematic areas of pain. Though CBD is reported to be effective, some researchers argue that THC is the most effective compound for dealing with pain. Some patients find CBD alone effective to treat painful symptoms, others don’t respond to it.
“It’s a matter of finding out what works for you because everyone is different,” Paysee emphasizes.
Marijuana remains illegal at a federal level. Thus, there considerations when deciding whether to use MMJ. Some social support programs as the Department of Housing and Urban Development require participants to be marijuana-free. Marijuana is prohibited on HUD rental properties regardless of card-holder status.
Unless determined to be a contributing factor to the disability, MMJ use does not affect eligibility for social security/disability. Employers can’t discriminate against employees who use MMJ as long as they hold cards according to the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act. An exception (House Bill 2541), allows employers to refuse to place any employee who uses MMJ in a safety-sensitive position, such as commercial drivers and construction workers.
Studies into the benefits of marijuana still face obstacles to funding. Thus, many of the reports on its medicinal value remain anecdotal. As states explore the potential revenue from legalization of marijuana for both medicinal and recreational use, we can expect to see medical science cut through the taboo to find answers.
Although legal in Arizona under narrow medical uses and with proper documentation, marijuana remains a prohibited substance per the Controlled Substances Act. Federally, cannabis is classed as a Schedule I substance and considered to have a high potential for dependency and no accepted medical use.
Even with a medical marijuana card issued by the state, federal enforcement is at the discretion of the Department of Justice. MMJ card holders can still face penalties including criminal prosecution and civil asset forfeiture. All programs that rely on federal funds will prohibit the use and sale of marijuana – even for a documented medical use.
Ability360 prohibits the use of marijuana on our campus in compliance with federal law.
Cassandra Brandt is a freelance writer with a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology. A single mom from Arizona, she was a traveling ironworker before her 2015 injury resulting in quadriplegia.