Imagine the desperation felt by people living with chronic, severe pain or discomfort — with no relief in sight. The list of symptoms brought on by multiple sclerosis is lengthy, and for people with progressive forms of MS, quality of life becomes an intensely personal issue. Until we walk in those shoes, our ability to truly empathize is limited.
Marijuana has been reported to help patients cope with a variety of chronic medical conditions, including AIDS, cancer, glaucoma and multiple sclerosis. Many MS patients and advocates report that the use of medical marijuana provides relief from spasticity, nerve pain, tremors, sleeping disorders and depression.
Marijuana is known to cause some cognitive impairment, but many legally prescribed medications are far more potent and come with the risk of more serious side effects. Watch television for a few hours and you’ll see a stream of ads for powerful prescription medications with lengthy potential side-effects up to and including death … but they remain an option for those who choose them.
Six years into life with relapsing/remitting MS, I consider myself very fortunate in that I still have periods of remission that provide relief from symptoms. I have no need for marijuana or the regular use of any type of pain medication. However, having experienced extended periods of pain, discomfort, and a fair amount of disability, I have an inkling of how life might change should my MS run amok and become more aggressive, or if some other condition should rear its ugly head. It is a possibility I cannot dismiss.
It’s clear that marijuana use can cause cognitive problems in the short term, and perhaps even long-term. It is not something to be taken lightly, but for the chronically ill, perhaps that’s a fair trade-off.
Currently, 13 states allow some use of medical marijuana with a doctor’s approval, and earlier this year, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) announced that it will no longer raid state-approved marijuana dispensaries; our view of marijuana is changing.
It’s all very cut and dried if you believe that marijuana is nothing more than a dangerous and illegal street drug. But the testimonials by the chronically ill give one pause. Quality of life and end-of-life issues take on a whole new meaning when it’s your life rather than a hypothetical exercise.
Living comes with difficult choices that we’d rather not make, and sometimes it’s about the lesser evil. If marijuana, in its common form or some other variation, can improve quality of life, if only briefly, should it be treated any differently than any medication prescribed by a physician? Is it a moral issue?
Whether it’s a miracle or a menace may be in the eye of the beholder.
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