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Do the risks outweigh the benefits?

Zoe Greszler • Updated Mar 29, 2017 at 10:10 AM

With the talk of whether or not to allow a medical marijuana cultivation facility, another discussion has started not just with the effects of bringing it into Norwalk — both good and bad — but also the effects of use on the body.

According to local health leaders, though there are some known facts, not much research has been done on the matter due to legal restrictions. 

Dr. Shankar Kurra, senior VP of Fisher-Titus Medical Center medical affairs, said there is a “need for continued high-level medical research on the use of marijuana for specific medical conditions.”

“Even though medical marijuana has been legalized in Ohio, marijuana remains illegal under federal law because it is classified as a Schedule I controlled substance. Being classified as a Schedule I controlled substance limits the research and testing that can be done,” Kurra said.

According to U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), a substance is categorized as Schedule I if it has the following characteristics: the substance has a high potential for abuse; has no currently accepted medical treatment use in the U.S. and/or there is a lack of accepted safety for use of the substance under medical supervision.”

Marijuana shares this list with substances such as LSD, heroin, MDMA/ecstasy, meth, bath salts and at least four others.

“Many medical associations, including the Ohio State Medical Association, advocate reclassification of marijuana-based products from their current Schedule I narcotic to a Schedule II to improve access for study of marijuana or cannabinoids under IRB-approved research protocols,” Kurra said.

“This type of rigorous research is important to evaluate the long-term safety and effectiveness of marijuana-based products. The current medical marijuana legislation being passed by policymakers across the country, which promotes marijuana-based products, is not supported by this high-level or medical research nor has it undergone Federal Drug Administration approval process required of other drugs and medicines.”

One Norwalk reader, Janet Ketcham, said it’s because of this lack research that she believes some are missing out on what could be a life saving medication.

“Medical marijuana is used primarily for people who have health issues as the name indicates,” she said in a letter to the editor.

“It could be a great help to many people who suffer from chronic back pain, cancer and other serious problems. It has been proven to help those with chronic nausea due to chemo,” Ketcham wrote. 

“Alcohol and nicotine are just as likely to be used before someone progresses to a more harmful substance. Medical marijuana is not being proposed for children here but to help those who are in need or maybe have exhausted all other options. Some people naturally have a more addictive personality than others. If anyone wants to buy marijuana now off the street, they won't have any trouble getting it.

“I don't look at this as a monetary influx. Look at all the money alcohol and nicotine bring in to the state and federal tax base. Drunk driving, cirrhosis of the liver and of course cigarette smoking (which I hope we can all agree causes cancer) are costly and dangerous. The government doesn't stop the selling of these substances because they make too much money from it.

“Alcohol used to be illegal, but if you wanted it during prohibition you could easily get it,” she added. “The government realized they could make huge amounts of money by taxing it. I have never personally tried marijuana in my lifetime but I absolutely believe it should be legalized. I believe the benefits far out way the risk here. Your doctor can prescribe Oxycontin and morphine for pain which are far more addictive than marijuana. If it is legalized, there will be regulations put into place to make it safer.”

Huron County Health Commissioner Tim Hollinger said, as with any medication, there are side effects to marijuana, but agreed with Kurra that the medical research doesn’t exist yet to prove just what those are.

“There are side effects to every medicine,” Hollinger said.

“Antibiotics have side effects. Most of your pharmaceuticals have side effects. Will marijuana? Probably. If we sit down on any evening and watch TV, the full advertisements for medications where almost a whole minute is spent on the risks of taking that particular product, but people still take the product.

“So I don’t know if the risks will really overshadow what we see with a lot of the other products. Almost all medicines have side effects. It’s up to each person to have to weigh the benefits against the risks and I‘m sure there are particular people out there who could benefit from its medical use.”

Hollinger said even with the state law allowing medical marijuana usage, there are other factors involved.

“Your physicians are going to have to be willing to prescribe it,” he said.

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