The Texas state legislature is considering a medical marijuana bill, after a lengthy hearing.
There were 66 witnesses who participated in the hours-long hearing by the House Public Health Committee. Those who testified included physicians, nurse practitioners, caregivers, patients and veterans, all conveying the potential for medical marijuana to treat illnesses that legal medical treatments have failed to do safely and effectively.
As of now, about half of the legislatures are in support of the bill. The number of qualifying conditions the bill would allow for is comprehensive and includes HIV, AIDS, cancer, Crohn’s disease, glaucoma, PTSD, and autism, among many others.
Dr. Richard Hurley, who represents a non-profit of physicians who specialize in treating pain, was the only witness who opposed the legislation. “Specifically, our opposition is to the inclusion of severe pain,” Dr. Hurley said. He cited the minimal research on cannabis’ effectiveness in treating pain, and the lack of dosing guidelines for doctors. Based on his own practice, he estimated that approximately 15 percent of his patients who enter his office for the first time are already using cannabis to treat their symptoms, a number he believes proves cannabis’ ineffectiveness in treating pain.
“If this is approved for severe pain, virtually 75 percent of my patients will qualify for this drug.”
said Hurley, who received applause from the crowd in attendance.
“You’re hearing lots of laughter and lots of stuff but what studies are available show that 10 percent of patients get addicted, and the people who are more likely to get addicted are younger people.” He continued, “And there are numerous studies out which show that long term use in young children may affect the brain.”
As a doctor who specializes in treating pain, Dr. Hurley is probably familiar with treating patients with opioids. The addiction rate for prescription opioids is difficult to chart, since many people who develop an addiction acquired the drug illegally. According to the CDC, approximately 25 percent of non-cancer patients who were given long-term opioid therapies ended up struggling with addiction. This may make physicians like Dr. Hurley reevaluate the potential for marijuana as a less-addictive treatment option.
Hurley’s cited “ten percent” addiction rate does not take into account the severity of withdrawal symptoms. Abruptly halting opioid use can lead to seizures, fever, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, increased blood pressure, increased heart rate, and severe pain. These acute symptoms are what often maintain the cycle of addiction, keeping the user addicted simply to avoid suffering.
Side effects of cannabis withdrawal include restlessness and discomfort, with heavy users experiencing cravings, irritability, and anxiety.
The potential for fatal overdoses may be the most striking statistic. Opioids accounted for 33,091 deaths in 2015, a number that had quadrupled from 1999. Fatal cannabis overdoses remain resolutely at zero.
Those who testified at the hearing cited the dangers and lack of effectiveness of conventional treatment as their reason for choosing cannabis. Veteran Mark Bass conveyed how cannabis treats injuries, both physical and mental, he received during his service in two wars. Now, he wants to be able to use it freely and in consultation with his doctor.
“What I need is to be able to talk to my physician about cannabis. I need to be able to purchase cannabis that has been grown in a state-regulated grow facility, and sold in a state licensed dispensary.”
“I don’t want to be labeled a criminal, but if I have to choose between addictive medications and psychotropic drugs that make me non-functional, or cannabis, I choose cannabis.”
Among the others who testified was Dr. Audrey Powell, who spoke on behalf of her medical background and her disabled child. Her son Mitchell has severe autism and often hurts himself as well as others. She has exhausted every possible legal medical treatment, including a stem cell therapy offered in Panama. She only asked that they consider the bill so that she could legally attempt to treat her son with cannabis.
Currently, there is no vote scheduled. In order to pass the bill during the current legislative session, it must be out of committee and approved by the House by May 11th.