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“It appears to be safer than a lot of drugs we use already,” said Mirman, who has patients with multiple sclerosis and breast cancer who have admitted to self-medicating with marijuana.
States that approved medical marijuana, however, have experienced problems, which is one reason the Minnesota Psychiatric Society opposes the step. Recreational use of marijuana by adolescents has increased in states where medical use is permitted, and addiction treatment costs have increased, Borchardt said.
Research shows long-term addiction developing in 9 to 10 percent of marijuana smokers.
“Who might be helped and who might be harmed?” she said. “We are the physicians who deal mostly with mental illnesses and chemical dependencies. Our patients are the most vulnerable to the potential problems. So we feel the need to speak out.”
Opponents point out that there are alternatives for relieving nausea and pain.
View from Mayo
Two synthetic forms of THC also are available in pill form in the United States but aren’t popular because they don’t take effect right away and patients can’t control the dosages as they can with marijuana puffs, said Dr. J. Michael Bostwick, a Mayo Clinic psychiatrist.
A third, nabiximols, is a mouth spray with better dose control, Bostwick said, but it has been mired in clinical trials in the United States since 2006, while it has been approved in Canada.
Variations in state regulations create dilemmas for Mayo doctors when patients come from states where medical marijuana use is legal and seek advice. Mayo as a system precludes prescribing marijuana, even though its doctors in Arizona have the legal authority to do so.
Bostwick has published pro and con perspectives on medical marijuana. He wouldn’t take a stand on whether Minnesota should “thumb its nose” at the federal government and approve it.
“Minnesota will be just another variation on common themes,’’ he said, “none of which address the problem, which is we don’t have a unified approach to studying this substance and making sure it is safe.”
Jeremy Olson • 612-673-7744