Two Views • Medical pot a gateway to problems

Politics and medicine make a volatile mix for medical marijuana advocates, critics

Oregonians got the Oregon Medical Marijuana Act because a million dollars in out-of-state money paid for the 1998 OMMA ballot measure and voter campaign. A political committee led the effort.

The Oregon Medical Association and other reputable medical entities did not support OMMA.

The authors of the OMMA are national organizations whose mission is to legalize addictive drugs. Medical conditions listed in OMMA as benefited by smoking marijuana were chosen by the authors for the purpose of passing the ballot measure. Medical evidence does not support these claimed benefits.

Smoked marijuana is not good medicine for any medical condition. The big attraction in smoking marijuana under OMMA is that the smoker gets to decide how much to use.

Do Oregonians have physician prescriptions for smoked marijuana with OMMA? Physician prescriptions for smoked marijuana do not exist in Oregon or anywhere in the world. Under OMMA there is no physician responsibility for oversight of use or results of smoking marijuana. Nor is there U.S. Food and Drug Administration certification that smoked marijuana is safe or effective for any medical condition. Under OMMA, a physician merely certifies that the applicant may have one of the listed medical conditions, and that is the end of the physician's involvement and responsibility.

In contrast, Marinol is a prescription drug comprised of an active ingredient of marijuana. Marinol has been available in capsule form for 30 years. Based on research evidence, Marinol is FDA approved for only two uses: Nausea reduction and appetite stimulation. Prescribing it for any other use is not FDA approved. Marinol is intoxicating and abusable.

Sativex is a new prescription drug, derived from marijuana, available in Canada and Europe. The FDA is now testing it. Sativex probably will be available in the United States within two years. The big news is that Sativex is to be approved for pain reduction.

This will be the first marijuana derivative approved for pain reduction. When Sativex is available here, the claim that smoked marijuana is needed for 'medical' reasons will be nullified. Pain reduction is the primary justification given for smoking marijuana under the OMMA. Sativex has low side effects and low potential for abuse.

What does research evidence show about health effects? Marijuana smoke is more harmful to lungs than tobacco smoke. Emphysema will occur. The immune function of the lungs is weakened with reduced ability to fight bacteria, tumor cells, and fungi.

Eleven of 12 marijuana samples were found contaminated with the deadly fungus Aspergillus. AIDS progresses faster if marijuana is smoked. Brain cells are damaged. Memory, learning and attention are impaired. Brain shrinkage is documented. Likelihood of developing psychotic symptoms is doubled.

Solid evidence shows marijuana use can cause antisocial personality disorder.

Adolescents are particularly vulnerable to harmful effects of marijuana, perhaps because teenage brain development is not yet completed. Teen users have an addiction rate double that of adults. Marijuana use is related to teen crime and violence.

Marijuana is the No. 1 cause of emergency room admissions for drug overdose for Oregon teenagers.

More than 12,500 peer-reviewed, published studies document health damage from smoking marijuana. None document safety or effectiveness for any medical condition.

Smoking marijuana combines the worst aspects of both tobacco and alcohol use. The social, economic, and health consequences of using marijuana are akin to those of alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs.

I have been advised by a client of The Hemp and Cannabis Foundation that a doctor will write a prescription for Marinol for protection against employment drug testing. The doctor knows the client is smoking marijuana and has no intention of actually using any Marinol. This seems a fraudulent use of a prescription, particularly by the doctor.

Even with OMMA, possession and use of marijuana in Oregon remains illegal under federal law, as affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court. OMMA protects card holders only from being subjected to Oregon drug laws. Oregon employers need not tolerate employee marijuana use, as affirmed by the Oregon Supreme Court.

As a certified addiction counselor, I regard OMMA as an elaborate attempt to rationalize and increase social acceptance for marijuana use. Addicts entering treatment programs often have elaborate rationalizations to try to justify their drug use. Addicts must let go of their rationalizations in order to progress toward recovery.

Oregonians should be skeptical of further attempts to legalize smoked marijuana. Drug legalizing activists use obfuscation and disinformation contrary to factual evidence to further their goals. They are particularly fond of blurring the distinction between smoked marijuana and prescription drugs. OMMA scams Oregonians.

I look forward to the time when the Oregon Legislature abolishes it for the benefit of all Oregonians.

Roger Burt is employed as a rehabilitation counselor for 25 years. He was active in opposing the 1998 OMMA ballot measure.