Doctors unconvinced on value of medical marijuana
CHAMPAIGN — Medical marijuana for their patients?
One area doctor says flat-out no. Another sees the potential for misuse.
Illinois became the 20th state to legalize medical marijuana Thursday, but the law allowing people with certain serious diseases — among them cancer, multiple sclerosis, glaucoma, Parkinson's and HIV — to buy limited amounts for treatment won't take effect until Jan. 1.
Medical marijuana patients will need to have an established relationship with a doctor to approve their use. And they won't get that approval from Dr. David Hagan, a family medicine physician in Gibson City.
"I've never prescribed medical marijuana and I never plan to," Hagan said Friday. "I don't recall a patient in 30 years that I have not been able to control with conventional therapies."
Hagan said he's never been interested in prescribing Marinol, the FDA-approved anti-nausea pill containing synthetic THC, the active ingredient in marijuana. He's not a fan of prescribing the real stuff, either.
"I think marijuana is not as harmless as its proponents put it out to be," Hagan says.
Consider whether you want your cab driver, or the person cooking your food in a restaurant, to be using medical marijuana, he says.
"I am hopeful that the strict regulations (in Illinois' medical marijuana law) will prevent diversion and inappropriate use on a slippery slope that we have seen in other states," he said.
Dr. James Hildebrandt, vice president of medical affairs for the Sarah Bush Lincoln Health System, Mattoon, says marijuana has some benefit in "fairly narrow circumstances."
"There is some evidence that marijuana works fairly well for nausea, especially chemotherapy-induced nausea, but it doesn't work as well as some of the anti-nausea medications we already have," he said.
However, he adds, all patients tolerate medications differently, so marijuana may work for some patients.
As a pain reliever, marijuana isn't as good as some drugs already available, Hildebrandt said, but it can have some advantage for people in chronic pain who are already taking opiod medications.
"It's not a very strong analgesic by itself," he said.
"Honestly, I think that to me, for what we know about it now, its role would be best for people who have failed traditional treatment and add it on as an adjunct," Hildebrandt said. "That would be the most sensible way to use it."
Still, he says, one major problem for doctors is they have yet to see strong evidence about marijuana as a treatment.
"There's a lot we don't know about how useful a drug it is," he says.
Other reservations for Hildebrandt: He sees the potential for misuse, and, like all prescription medications, the possibilities it will fall into the hands of kids.
Youths can gain access to medical marijuana for recreational use the same way they currently gain access to their parents' medications, he said.
"People are going to be going to clinics, saying, 'My back hurts,' and saying, 'I can't take this, can I have some marijuana?'" he predicts. "People will make money setting up shop catering to that kind of thing. Marijuana is already prevalent in our society. I think it's a drug that doesn't have a lot of benefit for anything. It has a small niche in medicine, but it's going to be used out of proportion because it's a drug that a lot of people find enjoyable."
The Carle Physician Group and Christie Clinic declined to participate in interviews on Illinois' new medical marijuana law.