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Why is Cannabis for Cancer Unavailable for Most?


Medical marijuana continues to receive mixed reviews in the world of health care, but for those affected by cancer, it offers a ray of hope. Celebrities like Olivia Newton-John confirm the benefits through their own personal use of the plant but many don't have access to it.

Just a few days ago, Olivia Newton-John revealed that her breast cancer has returned for the third time. Diagnosed with breast cancer in 1992, she underwent a partial mastectomy and then, in 2013, the cancer returned and was discovered in her shoulder. After remaining dormant for over two decades, it has now returned to her spine.

In an interview with Australia’s “Sunday Night,” Ms. Newton John revealed she is currently practicing a holistic health regimen which includes the use of cannabis/cannabidiol, also known as medical marijuana. She explained her husband grows marijuana for her and makes tinctures for her to consume. ONJ calls it a medical miracle plant. She stated in an interview with 60 minutes she chose the cannabis because she doesn’t like taking prescription medicines.

Celebrities like Ms. Newton-John bring new hope to those of us currently dealing with breast cancer. By sharing her story publicly, she’s helped many see that there are options besides the traditional forms of treatment for breast cancer.

Women are realizing they have the right to voice their opinions and share their concerns about their treatments. They’re also learning that they have a right to question their doctors and request other options if they don’t feel chemotherapy or radiation will best suit their needs. Gone are the days of simply accepting and agreeing with a recommended course of treatment.

But what happens when women consider the option of requesting medical marijuana? Society hasn’t yet accepted that marijuana is a medicinal plant and that it has many widespread health benefits. Perhaps part of the reason is ignorance and part of the reason is the stigma attached to marijuana as only being a recreational drug. For those who feel this way, perhaps it would be helpful for them to understand medical marijuana does not contain the mind-altering compounds of THC.

I, too, was once ignorant of the benefits of medical marijuana but when my father was dying of lung cancer and refused to eat, doctors prescribed cannabis to increase his appetite. The medicinal-grade marijuana came in a tiny glass bottle with a dropper. Only a few drops were administered in each dose, but the liquid helped his body realize hunger again and therefore, prompted an increase in his appetite. This allowed him to receive much-needed nourishment and maybe even helped him live a little longer than he would have lived otherwise. He did not have side effects from the medication and did not feel the typical conscious altering-effects of traditional marijuana.

In the state of Georgia, my home state, the law for the legalization of medical marijuana was presented in 2015. The bill has specific guidelines regarding the distribution of cannabis for medical reasons. Any prescription for medical marijuana must not contain more than 5 percent THC and the person receiving the medication must register with the state and carry an identification card describing the reason for the marijuana. Carrying more than 20 fluid ounces on one’s person will result in a felony conviction. The laws regarding medical marijuana vary from state to state, and medical marijuana has not been legalized in all states. In the states where it is legal, cannabis has helped cancer patients deal with pain and other unpleasant side effects.

But if the benefits of cannabis have been proven effective for helping those with cancer, why isn’t it available for all those affected? Why is there such shame attached to the idea of using a medicinal plant to benefit one’s own health? Many prescription drugs are derived from plants found in nature. Synthetic chemicals form many of the others used in today’s cancer treatments. Why wouldn’t we want to put a natural medicine into our bodies instead of one formed in a laboratory?

For the past three years, I have been suffering from severe bone and joint pain related to treatment received for breast cancer. Now the pain is becoming more prevalent and has begun to manifest in my spine. Over-the-counter pain relievers don’t help, and prescription pain medications are addictive. I would like the option of having the chance to try medical marijuana and plan on talking with the oncologist about it at my next visit, but I’m afraid he will refuse my request for a prescription.

According to the guidelines for Georgia medical marijuana usage for the treatment of cancer, the law states it should be implemented “when such diagnosis is end-stage or the treatment produces related wasting illness or recalcitrant nausea and vomiting.” Since I don’t have end-stage cancer and I’m not suffering from recalcitrant nausea and vomiting, I doubt I’ll be able to receive a prescription, although I believe it would greatly help manage my pain.

Shouldn’t cannabis be readily available for all who suffer from cancer? Ms. Newton-John is blessed to live in an area where it is perfectly legal to own and grow marijuana plants. Her use of the plant has helped her through two rounds of cancer already, and she’s working on making it through her third round.

Perhaps women with breast cancer should have discussions with their medical team regarding the use of medical marijuana as part of their treatment option. Even if it’s not the best fit for every individual, it would be nice to know we have a choice and for those who prefer treating their cancer holistically, cannabis just makes sense.

Ms. Newton-John has fought bravely each time cancer has come into her life. At 70 years of age, she is remarkable and has an optimistic outlook on life. It is my prayer that she will find relief from her pain and take comfort knowing she has touched the lives of many throughout the years with her beautiful songs, her great acting skills, and for providing us with the hope of a better tomorrow in the world of cancer treatments. She has also founded the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Wellness and Research Centre in Australia where work is done continually to advance the field of cancer related treatments and research.

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