Cannabis Patient Care - December 2021

Cannabis Patient Care December 2021

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14 cannabis patient care | vol. 2 no. 4 doctor focus C ANNABIS OFTEN SUFFERS from its bad reputa- tion as a pathway to get high and cause chaos. Peter Grinspoon, MD, a primar y care physician at Massa- chusetts General Hospital and an instructor in med- icine at Har vard Medical School, was raised with knowledge of both the good and bad sides of cannabis. Most people in the 1970s and 1980s only heard about the harms, however, Dr. Grinspoon was taught about the negative effects and the benefits, an approach not often used by people. The medicinal benefits of cannabis were witnessed first- hand by Dr. Grinspoon through his brother, Danny, who had been diagnosed with childhood leukemia. Danny's medi- cal treatment included chemotherapy which was so hard on his body that it was preventing him from holding food down. Their parents obtained some cannabis illegally in the early 1970s and Danny's experience with the plant was transform- ative. For the last year or so of his life suffering from the illness, he was able to eat and not get sick. "When I went to medical school, I knew that cannabis was an effective medication for at least some things. Whereas they were still—and they still are in some medical schools—unfor- tunately, treating it like, you know, this dangerous drug of mis- use that doesn't have any medical application or benefits," said Dr. Grinspoon. Throughout his education the pros of the plant were not discussed. Instead, his education focused on watered down drug war ideolog y. "They didn't teach us about the endocan- nabinoid system, the whole complex network of receptors and transmitters in our brain by which cannabis works and by which, like many of our systems work in our bodies. And I've always been really interested in that. I think it was real- ly good for my education to understand the cannabis," ex- plained Dr. Grinspoon. "While it certainly has some potential harms and dangers that we have to be aware of, and we have to use it safely and wisely at the same time, it has an incredible array of poten- tial benefits. And I wish our medical education would reflect that. It's still a casualty of the drug war, and I think that really needs to change," he added. Through his positive experiences with medical canna- bis, Dr. Grinspoon knew that there was more than one side to cannabis. Once he obtained his medical degree, Dr. Grin- spoon wanted to incorporate the medicinal oppor tunities of the plant into his prac tice as an option to his patient s. One of the groups of patient s he cares for are veterans. While veterans suf fer from various ailment s, Dr. Grinspoon of ten sees them come in with symptoms of post-traumat- ic stress disorder (PTSD). He shared that has seen medical cannabis help these patient s with sleeping, anxiety, chron- ic pain, and PTSD. Dr. Grinspoon is a strong advocate for medical cannabis. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) does not offer med- ical cannabis treatment to their patients because of canna- bis's Schedule I status. In Canada, Dr. Grinspoon explained that their government pays for medical cannabis so veteran patients don't have to. Veterans are one of the many active groups advocating for cannabis and demanding more access for use and access to more research for the plant because they have witnessed first-hand of how it has helped them. The government takes a more intense approach of how they han- dle cannabis, clouded by the drug war ideology, and focused on proving how cannabis is bad or doesn't work. Tens of mil- lions of people successfully and productively use it for their symptoms. The use of medical cannabis by patients and re- search that has been completed have both shown the amaz- ing benefits it can have on various ailments. Dr. Grinspoon discussed the negative take the VA has on cannabis. "I work with veterans that use it for chronic pain. I work with veterans who have used it to get off of opiates for chronic pain. They're now happily using cannabis instead of huge doses of oxycodone and benzodiazepines," he said. "The VA has no problem doling out pills hand over fist. I mean, it seems like they're doing a little bit less of that now. But they would be so much better off allowing their doctors to certify people for cannabis. Or at least, not penalizing the veterans for using cannabis. I mean, they lighten up a little bit every year. But just a few years ago, the doctors weren't even al- lowed to mention cannabis." A Doctor's Fight for Cannabis Reform and Regulation B Y M A D E L I N E C O L L I

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