Arkansans will decide Nov. 6 whether patients with a limited number of chronic conditions can use marijuana with a doctor’s recommendation. The proposal applies only to Arkansas residents. Arkansas is the first state in the South to vote on the issue.
Matthews is a member of Moms for Marijuana, a national organization that promotes education, discussion and research about marijuana’s benefits. She chats online with other members who use marijuana in foods like cannabutter to help treat bipolar disorder, ADD and other mental health issues in their children.
She said she’s constantly seeking anything that would help her 12-year-old son, who has been diagnosed with ADHD and, at various times, bipolar disorder, mood disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder. His issues include behavior problems. He takes four prescription medicines each day.
“The school calls me almost daily, and that’s with him on medication,” Matthews said. “What if this cannabutter could calm him where he sat through class? And if it didn’t work, I’d move on. It’s hard that I’m not able to try something.”
Matthews said she would consider moving to Arkansas if voters approve medical marijuana.
“It’s an hour away for me,” she said. “I think it’s a very good initiative. Here it takes a legislator to introduce it. From what I see, there’s no one willing to do that.”
Seventeen states and the District of Columbia allow medical marijuana. Voters in three states — Colorado, Washington state and Oregon — will decide Nov. 6 whether to allow state-regulated, recreational use of marijuana.
Despite the state-level laws partially legalizing marijuana use, the drug remains banned at the federal level. The American Medical Association in 2009 asked the federal government to change marijuana’s classification to encourage research, but federal officials have yet to do so.
Lisa Schrott, a researcher at LSU Health Shreveport, considered using marijuana when she started looking at ways to decrease nausea and vomiting. She had the proper credentials but decided to take a different tack by enhancing cannabis-like chemicals that occur naturally in the brain. She’s also looking at a ginger compound as an anti-nausea treatment
Schrott’s career includes studying how drug addiction affects the brain. She notes that people can abuse marijuana but that research has shown it’s effective against symptoms of some illnesses and side effects of some treatments.
“The problem is, when you smoke marijuana, you get a lot of other effects,” Schrott said. “The idea with our research is to get the medicinal value without the side effects. We took the approach, ‘It’s doubtful medical marijuana will be legalized here, so let’s look at the endogenous cannabinoids.’”
Her research copies the way antidepressants like Prozac work, by delaying the reabsorption of natural antidepressant chemicals in the brain.
She uses a chemical to delay reabsorption of the natural cannabinoids in rats’ brains, with good results in stopping nausea-related behavior. The compounds’ effect on pain hasn’t been as pronounced.
Schrott presented the results at the Society for Neuroscience conference in 2011. She plans to publish the data after she and colleagues finish examining brain changes in the rats.
Reseachers elsewhere are examining how cannabis compounds affect appetite, with an eye toward developing drugs to help people lose weight. There’s also interest in whether cannabis can protect the brain after a stroke.
Also on the horizon is Sativex, a marijuana-based spray the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is considering as a treatment for cancer pain.
The prescription medicine is approved in Canada, the United Kingdom, five European countries and New Zealand to treat muscle spasms related to multiple sclerosis.
“It will be interesting to see what happens if the FDA actually approves it because it contains THC. It would actually be medical marijuana. It comes from marijuana that’s grown in England and highly regulated,” Schrott said.
She said she was surprised by the Arkansas ballot initiative in light of that state’s crackdown on synthetic marijuana marketed as incense under names like “Spice” and “K2.” Those illegal, lab-created drugs contain huge amounts of THC compared to the real thing, she said
She lectures first-year medical students about marijuana each year, balancing information about its street-drug past, its potential for medical use and the consequences that come with any medicine.
“I tell them, ‘It’s one thing when you’re 18 years old, but do you want your 80-year-old grandmother driving after she smokes pot?’ You don’t want your 80-year-old grandmother driving anyway.”
Impaired drivers are among concerns listed by Arkansas law enforcement associations, which opposed Issue 5. The Arkansas Pharmacy Association also opposes the initiative because pharmacists wouldn’t dispense the marijuana. The Arkansas Chamber of Commerce is concerned medical marijuana would lead to people getting high on the job.
A poll conducted Oct. 18 by Talk Business-Hendrix College showed that support has declined since July, when a similar poll was conducted.
However, with barely a week before Election Day, supporters and opponents have stepped up advertising to try to sway undecided voters and change people’s minds.
Arkansans for Compassionate Care, which drafted the initiative, took “the best of each state’s and DC’s laws and improved on the bad stuff,” spokesman Chris Kell said.
“We’re close to the way Maine structures their law,” Kell said. “We wanted to eliminate as many loopholes as possible. California and Colorado are two prime examples where they weren’t strict enough. We didn’t want it to be a gateway to legalized marijuana.”
However, Caddo Parish District Attorney Charles Scott is concerned that medical marijuana could open the door to other uses. Marijuana possession remains illegal in Louisiana, based on federal drug classifications.
In 2007, Louisiana ranked fifth in the nation in marijuana offense arrests, according to Drug Science, an organization that compiles and analyzes statistics about marijuana laws and use in the United States.
“What you’re going to see is someone going to Dr. Feelgood and saying, ‘I don’t feel so good’, and the doctor says, ‘Here’s a prescription for marijuana,’” Scott said.
“Then someone else goes to Dr. Feelbetter and says, ‘I don’t feel good,’ and gets a prescription for marijuana, then other people say, ‘Let’s go see our sick friends’. It will effectively make a mockery of the controlled dangerous substances law. It will be interesting to see what happens.”