Pot Or Not? Indecision In The Age Of Marijuana.

Posted by Michael Collins in Life After Paralysis on July 06, 2015 # Health

I live in one of the 23 states that has approved sale of medical marijuana to "patients" with a doctor's prescription. Going a step further, our voters recently approved the establishment of retail stores where the sale is legal even without a prescription. Entrepreneurs bid for the right to sell marijuana-based products in specific areas, and marijuana growing licenses are also issued through a similar system to assure that the new stores will have products to sell.

All of this ready availability and the publicity that accompanied it has caused me to revisit the possibility that this could be a solution for alleviating some of the side effects of the spinal cord injury that paralyzed me in 1988. The idea is not new to me. When I was still in my initial post-injury rehab ward, the staff struggled with trying to get my spasms to subside a bit as it was taking two people to complete range of motion exercises. That was because of my prior athletic career that resulted in some pretty significant leg muscles that didn't like to be told what to do even after they were paralyzed.

One of the items that they offered as a solution to control the spasticity and pain was medical marijuana, which was available in tablet form. When they brought me the pills they also brought the Physicians Desk Reference listing for that drug. When I saw the side effects I decided that I didn't need any more slurred speech, lethargy, memory loss, seizures or other of the listed potential impacts in my daily life; I gave them back the pills,

Since then, prescription pharmaceuticals and rigorous range of motion that includes stretching exercises morning and evening have been my solutions for the pain, spasticity and stiffness that is so common for those of us who are paralyzed. I have several friends whose use of marijuana for easing similar disability-related symptoms has gone on for years. They are doing fine, so I decided it would be appropriate to check into what is happening around me as marijuana is in the news a lot lately.

Marijuana use is not a new phenomenon in my world, as I grew up just ahead of what is affectionately known as the "baby boomer" generation that followed World War II. As far as I remember, drugs were not a problem in the small rural town where I was raised. We were given plenty of guidance when it came to the dangers of drug use from our parents, coaches and even in public service announcements (PSAs). In those PSAs, generations of young people have witnessed the transformation as a normal fried egg became "your brain on drugs," but more than a few of them have failed when it came to following the slogan "Just Say No."

Suddenly things have changed. Without any real breakthroughs in the scientific evidence regarding marijuana, several state governments are now encouraging, or at least allowing, its use by devising a way to make significant tax revenues off its sale. As an example, in Washington State the estimated retail sale of marijuana exceeds $1 million per day. Taxes levied on those who grow and sell the drug and its by-products now provide an important new source of tax revenues for the state. "Just Say No" is being replaced with a "Buy it Here" attitude.

The movement to legalize marijuana in this country is a real mess. About 23 states have legalized the sale of medical marijuana, even though its status on the federal list of Schedule 1 drugs has it there because it supposedly has no redeeming medical value. Four of those states and the District of Columbia have also legalized the sale of marijuana for recreational purposes.

The high retail price for marijuana products in the states where it is legal, combined with federal law that does not recognize any legal use of the drug, makes this a risky business even in those states where they have declared marijuana use to be legal. Besides worrying about federal enforcement of drug laws, security costs for growers and retailers are extremely high because it is an all-cash business. Mainstream banks and credit card companies will not risk having the federal government seize their assets and shut them down for "laundering" illicit drug money, so stockpiles of cash need to be maintained in the growing operations or retail establishments and secured with armed guards.

The possession or sale of marijuana is a Schedule 1 felony drug offense in many jurisdictions, with the same criminal penalties as would be levied for use or possession of heroin, LSD, methamphetamines or other illegal drugs. Once a felony conviction is on a criminal record, for any reason, the felon is prevented from entering many professions including law enforcement or government positions that might require a security clearance. A drug conviction could also eliminate the possibility of getting student aid or loans. In some states a conviction could mean life in prison, but that pales in comparison to even more severe penalties levied in some foreign countries, which range up to and including the death penalty.

At the same time that almost half the states are making it possible to expand drug use and make revenues off it in the process, other segments of our budget are being expended to control that use. Looking at the statistics regarding the "war on drugs" in the United States, it is clear that this war is not being won, and it is extremely expensive. For 2015, the federal budget costs for this war exceed $26,000,000,000. That's billion with a B. Individual states have similar costs related to enforcement, conviction and incarceration.

While some recent scientific papers state that marijuana has some positive effects, the evidence is apparently not strong enough to convince the remaining states and the federal government to legalize its use. Until that happens, I place more stock in the word of my peers who have used it for several years in their efforts to combat the symptoms that plague most of us who are paralyzed.

Perhaps the most important consideration as I try to decide what to do is: will it work for my purposes? Some researchers, through smaller scientific studies, have found that consuming marijuana can help people living with many different health problems. Those studies claim that the active ingredients in marijuana can reduce nausea and other effects of chemotherapy, stave off glaucoma, counteract the impacts of PTSD, alleviate pain, lower blood pressure and even reduce spasticity. If they are correct, those last three benefits might help me deal with the aftereffects of my spinal cord injury.

Though I still remain undecided about whether this would be the right solution for me, I do know at least one thing for sure; since I have never been a smoker, my solution would not be a marijuana cigarette. However, I do like chocolate brownies.

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The National Paralysis Resource Center website is supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $8,700,000 with 100 percent funding by ACL/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by ACL/HHS, or the U.S. Government.