The Marijuana Conundrum

The Marijuana Conundrum

Public attitudes toward marijuana are changing rapidly in the United States. A majority of Americans now favor the legalization of cannabis and medical marijuana is legal in 23 states and the District of Columbia. Surveys also show that many patients find marijuana more effective at relieving pain than their prescribed medications.

But for anyone with a prescribed painkiller or enrolled in a pain management program — regardless of where they live — marijuana may as well be illegal.

They face a conundrum: if marijuana is ever detected in their urine or in a blood test, they stand a good chance of being dropped by their physician.

That’s what happened to Valerie, a 53-year old Texas woman who has suffered from chronic back pain since she was a young woman. After 17 years with the same pain doctor, he dropped her as a patient when marijuana was found in a urine screen.

“He didn’t want to kick me out. He looked me square in the face and said, ‘Valerie, the DEA has put the fear of God in us.’” she recalls.

Valerie, who asked that we not use her last name, has chronic pain from scoliosis that was aggravated by a work injury and two failed back surgeries. Before she was dropped by her doctor, Valerie found she could “stretch” her 30-day prescriptions for morphine and hydrocodone by supplementing the opioids with marijuana.

“I’ve smoked marijuana for a long time and I don’t have an arrest record. I haven’t been in a wreck in probably 30 years. The last time I got a ticket was probably 20 years ago. I’m not a bad person. And it’s like they singled me out and outed me. And my life is hell now. It really is,” she says.

Valerie avoided detection for years by stopping her use of marijuana just prior to an anticipated drug test. That strategy worked until last year.

“When he kicked me out I said ‘What am I going to do if you’re cutting my off cold turkey?’ He said go to another chronic pain doctor and don’t tell them you saw me. If they know you’ve taken this test and failed it, no doctor in the state of Texas can prescribe to you.”

bigstock-The-words-medical-marijuana-su-17121803Marijuana has been used as medicine for thousands of years, but the scientific evidence that it can safely relieve pain without side effects is scant. Anecdotal evidence is growing, however.

A National Pain Report survey of over 1,300 fibromyalgia patients found that medical marijuana is far more effective at treating symptoms of fibromyalgia than any of the three prescription drugs approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat the disorder.

Another recent survey of medical marijuana patients published in the Hawaii Journal of Medicine & Public Health found that nearly all (97%) used cannabis primarily for relief of chronic pain. Respondents said marijuana cut their pain scores in half and helped reduce their reliance on pain medications.

“Cannabis is an extremely safe and effective medication for many patients with chronic pain. In stark contrast to opioids and other available pain medications, cannabis is relatively non-addicting and has the best safety record of any known pain medication,” wrote lead author Charles Webb, MD.

Valerie has refused to give up marijuana or lie to other doctors about her use of cannabis. For the last 15 months she has self-medicated, using marijuana and over-the-counter Naproxen to relieve her day-to-day pain. For breakthrough pain, she takes Vicodin pills obtained through the black market.

“People have friends. There are all kind of ways (to get drugs), if you have got to have something. I do what I have to do to maybe have 10 Vicodin last me a month,” she told National Pain Report.

“I don’t like doing it and I don’t consider myself a drug addict. I’d rather not have to take anything at all. But I’m trying to survive here.”

Valerie knows the irony of the situation. Efforts by government and law enforcement agencies to stop the abuse and overprescribing of pain medication have scared many doctors into dropping patients who have a blemish on their record. Many of those patients now get their painkillers off the street or turn to illegal drugs – the very thing the government was trying to stop.

“I don’t understand where my rights as a citizen went. I don’t understand what gave the DEA the right to go in and look at my medical records and tell my doctor how to practice medicine. I don’t get that at all,” Valerie says. “All they’ve done is driven up the price of pain drugs on the street.”

Authored by: Pat Anson, Editor

There are 10 comments for this article
  1. Johnna Stahl at 2:09 am

    BL and Sheri:

    Addiction in the chronic pain population is very low — I’ve read it’s anywhere from 3% to 5%. So, while screening for potential addiction problems is great, it’s not going to cover the majority of people who suffer from addiction (who usually don’t even have access to treatment).

    Pain patients are blamed for diversion, but I am not convinced patients are the main problem. If under-treatment and lack of access weren’t so widespread, there wouldn’t be such a large underground market.

    The main problem is not with pain patients or patients who suffer from addiction — it is diversion from the medical market into the commercial market. And I find it hard to believe that it is only patients who are to blame for that.

  2. Johnna Stahl at 12:32 am

    Sheri, do you mind if I ask what state you live in?

    You talk about the effects of trying to stop your medications, and since I was unable to taper off as recommended, I understand the sickness you describe.

    Unfortunately, after completely stopping opioids, it takes weeks for the worst of the sickness to pass. But I think it is the sickness — your body ridding itself of these synthetic drugs — that makes it seem like your pain is getting worse. Because it is, but only until the sickness passes. Then your pain levels return to what they usually are.

    However, it took months before I really felt “normal” again — if level 7 pain is normal.

  3. BL at 9:59 pm

    Sheri, as a general rule, drs are aware of changes before the general public is. Those that don’t prepare their patients properly, are doing so for monetay reasons. The time it would take for a dr to properly screen patients individually to seperate the drug addicts and those who are inclined to addiction from those that aren’t drug addicts would be very costly and the insurance companies would surely rebell more than they already are.

  4. Sheri at 8:55 pm

    I am a 54 yr. old woman. I have had chronic pain for 15 yrs. Fourteen of those years I have been on one or another opioid. I have tried, more than a few times, to stop or taper back from taking them. When I do, the Pain comes back right away, and from reducing my dose, I start to feel real sick. I have always been responsible with my medicine. I take it as it is prescribed. I even lock it up in a lock box. This summer, my Neurologist “mentioned” that the DEA was cracking down? I never got much of a understanding of what was really happening. Then I went to my local pharmacy (the one my family has always used), and they told me that they will no longer carry that medication. They gave me the same answer, and I left with no real understanding of what I was supposed to do. That day I went to 8 to 10 different drug stores. Not one had them. By then I couldn’t even walk anymore. The pharmacy is always at the back of the store, and walking for me aggravates my condition until I can’t walk anymore. So, EVERY month I get to WORRY about where I am going to be able to fill my prescription??? And worry aggravates my condition. I’m starting to feel like the “pharmacists” think I’m some kind of junkie!!! It really is humiliating. My mind keeps saying “What am I going to do?” The DEA did NOT even give our Doctors enough Time to ween us off of the medications, since we can hardly find anywhere to fill them. The doctors are afraid to take a stand for their patients…But soon, they may not have any more patients. They have left us “out to dry…or die”. All people Need to understand that is can happen to them. You might get in a car accident one day, or get severely burned…could be anything. When a person has constant pain, it is not their fault. The DEA is pushing us into the Street Market…And that is what they are suppose to stop? There has got to be a way to tell who the Abusers are and who the Responsible patients are. Then even the abusers will have to be weened off before they just cut them off. This is serious. A patient of opioids can have a deadly seizure, etc. if they are not weened of the medication. This is NOT Funny. The DEA did not think this through.

  5. Johnna Stahl at 2:25 am

    One of the hardest things I’ve ever done is to escape the negative cycle of prescription drugs to treat pain, replacing a dangerous cocktail with one, single plant. Anyone — and I mean anyone — who has anything negative to say about cannabis is, at most, uninformed; and at least, supporting opposition because of financial or professional interests.

    The DEA has criminalized pain patients, and the medical industry has refused to put their patients needs first. Both actors have caused much harm to this patient population — after decades of being treated by pain “specialists,” I will never trust a doctor again.

    If you are a pain patient, I would suggest that you free yourself from the merry-go-round of currently available “standard” treatments and go natural. Believe me, it will be the best decision you ever make.

  6. BL at 12:07 pm

    Unfortunately, there have been deaths due to marijuana. Deaths from MVA’s, deaths from mixing marijuana with prescription and other illegal substances. You must be responsible with marijuana, just like you are with any other drug. Marijuana can also be addicting. Being causious in changing the laws is a good idea.
    For many drs the refusal to prescribe pain meds to patients who also use marijuana is because of one question. That question is if someone wants to use marijuana bad enough that they are willing to break the law to do it, what else do they want to do bad enough that they are wlling to break the law for ? Will they sell their meds or buy other meds off the street or engage in some other form of diversion

  7. BossIlluminati at 8:16 am

    the greatest plant in the universe is almost free, LET FREEDOM RING! 13

    1000s of my friends and family have grown 30-99 plants for 20 years, thanks for keeping prices high and NORCAL wealthy…#1 crop in cali = $15 Billion Untaxed…

    “any doctor against marijuana is a doctor of death” – cali secret 420

    from 0 states to half the country, from low 20% approval to almost 70%, cali runs this planet by 2 decades, time to tie marijuana to the 2014, 2016 elections, out with the old, in with the new

    20 years behind us southern states and NEW YORK (CBD = Cant Be Done), sad and scary….nobody denies freedoms like the south, nobody…the top ten incarcerators on the planet are southern states and more blacks are in prison then were slaves before the civil war…even if marijuana reforms did pass the republiCANTS in charge would deny you all your freedoms, centuries of practice…no matter though, we never planned on getting your backwards brethren from day one, half the country already but not one southern state, lol…not 1….the new generations are taking over in the south and they are nothing like their freedom denying parents, let’s ride…

    Deaths by Alcohol: Millions
    Deaths by Tobacco: Millions

    Deaths by Prescription Drugs: Quadrupled in last decade
    
Deaths by Guns: Millions
    
Deaths by the food we are fed: Millions
    
Deaths by Marijuana: 0, ever…they are killing my American family while denying freedom

    love and freedom forever

    AMERICA’S WAR ON DRUGS IS A WAR ON AMERICANS! 33

  8. BL at 10:15 pm

    Marijuana can be abused just like any other drug. Not all drs agree that adding another substance that can be addicting to chronic pain management is the bet way to go. The changes that will have to take place in private business alone bot to mention government means that Marijuana being an accepted medical treatment for chronic pain is a long way off. Even if Marijuana os legal in someones state, it they do a drug test at work and the person tests positive, they will be fired, unless their business has changed their written drug policy.

    If you have a card for marijuana, you can’t get on a plane without risking a huge fine. If you have applied for disability, testing positive can hurt your creditability. SSA disability is made up of federal laws and federal law has marijuana as a Schedule I. “Schedule I drugs, substances, or chemicals are defined as drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse. Schedule I drugs are the most dangerous drugs of all the drug schedules with potentially severe psychological or physical dependence”

  9. Dennis Kinch at 7:44 pm

    We’ve had this argument before, in many different ways and it always ends up the same way. The DEA is always trying to make their job look important. They can’t bust the real culprit so they go after legitimate patients. The other thing is that pot is a great drug, a natural drug, a lot better than many, many other drugs and society is scared sh__less just by the word pot.

    The same “scientists” who insist the weather has no effect on our conditions must be doing the pot research too, but we don’t need them to tell us what the truth is. Amazingly, these idiots are running the whole show and it’s time to make changes, past time!

    Only when the average person, or pain patients for that matter, come out of the woodwork and start complaining about the stupidity of what’s going on here, the DEA will still be busting legitimate patients and pot will still be the “evil weed.” Salute Colorado and Washington for having the “hootzpahs” to make pot legal and reaping the tax rewards and the many states that are making it medicinally legal. This is from the young people “getting out the vote” and stopping the “old school” stupidity. Let’s take a lesson from them.

    Get out the vote, let your voice be heard and stop the ignorance. Write to your congressmen! There’s 100 million of us out there! That’s enough to scare the crap out of any politician or federal agency who is mistreating us! I just sent 2 while I was typing this! Think about it, talk about it, write about it!

  10. LarryK at 6:54 pm

    I’m kind of in the boat of debating it. I’ve been on a combination of long acting Morphine, Lortab and Gabapentin. I’m starting to run up against built up Gabapentin affecting me negatively. I cut back on it, and my pain levels have increased drastically. I’m not sure I want to get into it, but I may not have a choice. It’s sad that those of us suffering are treating like criminals. That we’re more scared of politics, then anything else. My wife has some reservations as well, which I can understand, but I don’t think she quite realizes the pain. I’m scared of the house AC because the air hurts so badly.