Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Should State Legislators Determine Indications for Medical Treatment?

The FDA evaluates studies on medications and deems them safe enough to justify use.  They also determine the "indications" for using any particular medicine, and once that's done, physicians will often use a medication 'off label.'  That means that Medicine A was found to be safe (or relatively safe, because even over-the-counter meds can be fatal for the wrong person at the wrong time), and it works better than a placebo at treating Disease A, but some studies have found it useful for Disease B, but the FDA hasn't gotten to approving it for this yet, and perhaps never will, but docs use it for Disease B anyway.  This is very common with the SSRI's, where one has been approved for a condition, but maybe the patient isn't tolerating that one so well, so the doc uses another SSRI with a different side effect profile, even though that particular med has not been approved for that particular condition.  Just an FYI, the SSRI's are : Prozac Zoloft Paxil Luvox Celexa Lexapro.   


So the FDA says inhaled marijuana (as opposed to Marinol, a pill form of cannabis) has no medical uses and the discussion is ended.  It can't really be studied at this point, because it has no medical value so your local university can't grow or get any weed and do studies on it, because it has no medical value.  And the federal government says it's illegal.   I do believe that with 16 states disagreeing, that perhaps the FDA should reconsider this stance and repeat a study or two on inhaled cannabis for nausea induced by chemotherapy or anorexia in AIDS so that medical marijuana can be studied, monitored, grown in a pure regulated way, prescribed for a known and proven condition with some parameters like other medical interventions: 30 day supply, directions on how much and how often to smoke it (ah, the pharmacy could roll for you), reassessment so that if your doc decides to give it to you "off label" for your low back pain, and that pain is so much better but funny, you've stopped working, you lie on the couch all day playing Grand Theft Auto, and your life has virtually stopped, the doc can say, "Glad it's helped your pain, but it's put you into an apathetic, amotivational state and your life has now gone down the toilet, I'm stopping this so you can go back to work and pay the mortgage and feed those hungry children."  Or for us shrinks, "Funny, but you didn't have schizophrenia until you started smoking this stuff, let's stop it."  Obviously, if the person has become addicted (and yes, you can get addicted to weed), they'll get it illegally, but the same is true of benzos or opiates, and really medical marijuana just can't be any worse then the fiasco we've had in this country with oxycontin, especially when it gets mixed with a bit of also-legal Xanax and also-legal Vodka, and I can give you a long list of names of people who can no longer testify to this, famous and otherwise.  


So for the moment, the demand for legalized Medical Marijuana is left in the hands of our legislators.  Who better to determine medical indication, necessity, length of treatment, and methods of monitoring.  In Maryland, there was a study group led by the state's health secretary, Joshua Sharfstein.  The plan called for going slow, required training of docs to prescribe it, and required that it be distributed through academic centers.  Two legislators who are pushing bills to legalize medical marijuana called it Misguided and Heartless.


Delegate Glenn of Maryland has proposed House Bill 15, a Medical Marijuana Act.  It provides that marijuana could be used for a variety of conditions.  They include: 


(1) “DEBILITATING MEDICAL CONDITION” MEANS:
(I) A CHRONIC OR DEBILITATING DISEASE OR MEDICAL CONDITION OR ITS TREATMENT THAT PRODUCES ONE OR MORE OF THE FOLLOWING:
  1. CACHEXIA OR WASTING SYNDROME;
  2. SEVERE, DEBILITATING, OR CHRONIC PAIN;
  3. SEVERE NAUSEA;
4. SEIZURES, INCLUDING THOSE CHARACTERISTIC
OF EPILEPSY;
5. SEVERE AND PERSISTENT MUSCLE SPASMS, INCLUDING THOSE CHARACTERISTIC OF MULTIPLE SCLEROSIS OR CROHN’S
DISEASE;
  1. AGITATION OF ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE;
  2. ANXIETY; OR
  3. DEPRESSION; OR
(2)
VIRUS (HIV);
“DEBILITATING MEDICAL CONDITION” INCLUDES:
  1. (I)  CANCER;
  2. (II)  GLAUCOMA;
  3. (III)  POSITIVE STATUS FOR HUMAN IMMUNODEFICIENCY
  4. (IV)  ACQUIRED IMMUNE DEFICIENCY SYNDROME (AIDS);
  5. (V)  HEPATITIS C;
  6. (VI)  AMYOTROPHIC LATERAL SCLEROSIS;
  7. (VII)  NAIL PATELLA;
  8. (VIII)  POST–TRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER;
  9. (IX)  BIPOLAR DISORDER; OR
  10. (X)  THE TREATMENT OF ANY OF THE ABOVE LISTED CONDITIONS. 


    On the positive side, the law does require that "compassion centers" to either grow or distribute marijuana be at least 500 feet from pre-existing schools.  Because children can't walk 600 feet?  

    I'm told this bill won't pass, but another one, with out the listed psychiatric indications for the use of medical marijuana, may well pass.  I might be more pro-MMJ if the stats didn't reveal that 2% of recipients in Colorado have cancer and AIDS, and that many people are prescribed marijuana by non-psychiatrists for psychiatric reasons, including insomnia.  And if medical marijuana was distributed by a pharmacy with directions on how much and how often to use it.  The one-year toke your heart out cards with the boutique flavors all as part of "wellness" don't fly so well with me.  If people want marijuana to be legal, then legalize it, but this type of legislation puts physicians in the middle as an agent.  Really, if we were talking about people smoking a little during their cancer treatments, this just wouldn't be the issue that it is.

    Okay, so my questions for you:

    1) A person gets medical marijuana for back pain or anxiety or whatever.  He gets arrested.  Should it be continued in jail?  Prison not be such a bad experience if you get to be high the whole time?

    2) Shrink Rap readers don't really like uninformed consent with meds.  How do we feel about giving it to agitated Alzheimers patients and how would that work?  Can you smoke in nursing homes?  Do they have to taken outside in restraints?  Agitation is not usually associated with early Alzheimers.

    3) Do we think it's just a little weird that a state legislator is making laws listing which medical indications a drug should be used for?  I must have missed those lectures in residency where pot is the treatment for depression, etc.   Can legislators also decide that methotrexate should be legal for the flu?  I sort of don't get it.  

    Okay, my rant for the day.