Monday, October 29, 2012

When Medical Marijuana Is About Survival

By Nicole Flatow on Oct 29, 2012 at 9:00 am
Watch video of Ted Chapman speaking to ThinkProgress at Harborside Health Center in Oakland, Calif., below:

Ted Chapman was an engineer living in Hong Kong when doctors first diagnosed him with an aggressive form of brain cancer that could not be surgically removed. He was put on a regimen of radiation and chemotherapy, but it soon became clear that he was severely allergic to the primary anti-nausea medication typically prescribed to cancer patients.
Chapman suffered through nine months of a life that many would call unlivable — vomiting for hours at a time, his stomach lining torn apart by the abuse. But even more crucial to his recovery, his nausea was so severe that he struggled to keep the chemotherapy pill down long enough for it to be effective.
His condition stabilized, for a while, but when it returned, Chapman went looking for another form of relief. A self-professed “science guy,” Chapman found that the data suggested medical marijuana was his answer. This time, he was living in Oakland, Calif., where medical marijuana is legal under state law and widely available. He turned to his doctor:
I sat down with my oncologist before we started the treatment plan and I told her, look, we know that I have an issue with anti-medics, anti-nausea drugs and had a really bad experience. And my plan is to take whatever you do give me, because maybe it’ll work, and use cannabis.
And my oncologist said something that is never gonna leave my brain, which is, hospital policy prevents me from suggesting you do that. But I personally wholeheartedly endorse that decision, and by the way, many of my patients who are using cannabis use me this way. And she gave me instructions about how it’s been effective.
… I had nine months of chemotherapy in which I didn’t vomit, as opposed to a year of chemotherapy back in Hong Kong where I vomited multiple times every day. To say that it was a positive change in my quality of life is just the biggest understatement there could ever be.
Chapman is now being treated with an experimental therapy, and he marvels that his doctors are authorized to experiment with a genetically modified virus injection but not with an age-old plant that keeps him going. This is because marijuana — even for medical purposes — is both federally illegal and listed as a Schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act, meaning it is considered a dangerous drug with no currently accepted medical value.
Stress, Chapman claims, is thought to be particularly detrimental to cancer patients. And the stress of worrying that his dispensary will be shut down by the federal government, that he will no longer be able to keep living a life that allows him to spend quality time with his wife and family, and that his job will be at risk due to their drug-free policy, are not improving his condition. Medical marijuana has done more than ease his debilitating nausea; it has enabled him to sleep, and to keep down the medicine he needs to survive. He explains:
Compare that to waking up vomiting in the middle of the night or potentially not even being able to keep the chemotherapy in my system more than ten minutes, the probability of my survival dramatically changes.

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