As the state readies its medical marijuana facilities, physicians are divided over recommending it to patients once it becomes available to them next year.
Some welcome the new treatment option, while others plan to tread lightly.
“It’s a frontier in healthcare,” said Dr. Terrance McNamara, a pain physician at Monadnock Community Hospital. McNamara is concerned about the lack of extensive research in the U.S. about marijuana’s medical use. Also, he said, the drug is still considered illegal on a federal level. “I certainly want to know more about it, particularly with a potential facility coming to town.”
McNamara was referring to a company with plans to open a medical marijuana facility in the Brookstone Business Center. Prime Alternative Treatment Centers is one of three companies chosen to operate nonprofit medical marijuana treatment centers in the state. Prime Alternative Treatment Centers will dispense medical marijuana in Area 2, which encompasses Hillsborough and Merrimack counties. The Brookstone Business Center facility is a growing facility, and the marijuana will be transported to its dispensary in Merrimack.
In 2013, New Hampshire became the last state in New England to legalize medical marijuana. But the system lawmakers drafted for it to be dispensed has not yet been implemented. The Department of Health and Human Services does not expect the process to be online until February or March of this coming year.
Medical marijuana would be available to residents with qualifying medical conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis, traumatic brain injury, HIV or Alzheimer’s diseases.
Marijuana can be used to treat ailments such as chronic pain, spasticity and loss of appetite due to chemotherapy, mostly from the chemical found in marijuana, cannabinoid cannabidiol, or CBD, not THC, the psychoactive compound that gives marijuana users a high. Last month, Israeli scientists even discovered that CBD heals bones faster. But the DEA continues to classify marijuana as a Schedule I drug that has no accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse. Because of marijuana’s federal classification, American researchers have not been able to conduct large-scale studies of marijuana’s medical applications. And while the federal government has yet to prosecute physicians for prescribing marijuana, that could change under a different administration.
McNamara’s plan is to weigh the benefits marijuana could offer patients against the risks it poses them or the hospital. He imagines he will recommend it to patients with chronic or terminal illnesses, and not patients like a middle-aged man with back pain, or someone with a history of substance abuse or mental illness. He is also worried that because marijuana is a botanical product, a doctor can’t prescribe a precise dosage like they could a pill.
“Right now, I’m treading carefully,” he said.
Dr. Corey Burchman, an anesthesiologist at Dartmouth-Hithcock Medical Center and a board member of Prime Alternative Treatment Center, is excited about how marijuana can be used medicinally.
“It’s a very positive thing coming down the pipe for pain patients at wit’s end,” said Burchman.
Burchman said that in addition to pain medication being expensive, very few new types of this medication have been developed. “Here, this is a substance that has had continued use for 3,000 years,” he said. “It’s a really good thing.”
While Burchman has seen patients who use medical marijuana in Vermont, where it is legal already, he mainly treats acute pain, not chronic pain, where marijuana is applicable. He added marijuana is also a better alternative than opioids, which are addictive and have worse side affects.
Dr. Fred Bruchs, the medical director at Crotched Mountain Rehabilitation, said patients there who suffer from multiple sclerosis or traumatic brain or spinal chord injuries could all benefit from medical marijuana. He just looks at it as another tool in their “toolbox” to treat pain or spasticity.
“Medical marijuana would be one more treatment option,” he said.
But, like McNamara, Bruchs would like to learn more.
“We’re going to be going and getting a lot more information,” he said. “It’s a new frontier for us.”
Benji Rosen can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 228, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Benji_Rosen.
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