Medical Marijuana: Boon or Bane?

It was only on December 2018 when the new Ms. Universe, Catriona Gray, was asked during the pageant regarding her stand on the legalization of marijuana. As a pharmacist-educator, I share the same view that it should only be used for medical purposes.

Recently, the House of Representatives granted the medical marijuana bill a step forward to becoming a law despite the current administration’s bloody war on drugs. Once passed into law, the bill shall be known as the “Philippine Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act.” Should medical marijuana be legalized in the country, though? What are the undesirable effects once passed into law? Will it deliver individual well-being and contribute to the common good?

Marijuana, also known as cannabis, weed, or chongke (to mention a few) refers to the dried leaves, stems, flowers, and seeds from Cannabis sativa commonly known as hemp plant. It may also be derived from other species such as Cannabis indica. All forms of marijuana contain the mind-altering (psychoactive) chemical called tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is also the main active chemical in the plant.

Marijuana is legal in some US states, like Colorado and California, and some countries, like Australia, Poland, Uruguay, and Canada. Thailand has recently joined the list, being the first Southeast Asian nation to legalize the plant for medical purposes.

Some of the reported therapeutic uses of medical marijuana include anti-epilepsy, anti-Alzheimer’s disease, and treatment of loss of appetite after chemotherapy. However, marijuana can be harmful in a number of ways, through both immediate and long-term effects. Marijuana can obstruct the user’s short-term memory and the ability to perform tasks like studying. Because of its effect on perceptions, marijuana can interrupt various skills such as driving and machine operation. It may also cause hallucinations and affect one’s sexual behavior. Worse, it can lead to addiction.

In the Philippines, marijuana is currently considered to be a dangerous drug under the Republic Act 9165 otherwise known as the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002, although there is a policy that is implemented through the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) circular providing guidelines for the issuance of a compassionate special permit.

It must be noted that marijuana is not the only medicinal plant that can cause addiction. In fact, the plant opium poppy is the botanical source of many legally prescribed medicines that exist today. One of these derivatives from opium poppy is the drug morphine which is a powerful pain-killer, especially for cancer-related pain. Another is the coca plant, which is the source of the psychoactive stimulant cocaine. Before it was banned, cocaine was, in fact, the main ingredient in soft drinks and was a drug for anesthesia.

It might be a shock to many; but like marijuana, some of the substances that we consume are potentially habit-forming. These include alcohol, tobacco, coffee, and even refined sugar. For some, all of these are part of their daily consumption. Tobacco and alcohol are not safe, after all, and both are already reported to cause many serious conditions including cancer.

In some countries, marijuana is an additional option to treatment and has paved way to the right to health of the people. It has been used as the last resort for untreatable conditions. A good demonstration of this is when marijuana was used to stop an American child’s severe seizures. Just recently, there was news in the US that a marijuana-based epilepsy drug could soon get federal approval.

While the medical marijuana bill in the Philippines clearly states that marijuana will only be used for medical purposes, the problem when it is legalized is the implementation of the law. The Philippines is excellent in making a law, but otherwise opposite when it comes to implementing it.

Also, guidelines on medical marijuana treatment, dose, and the route of administration must also be established. Even if the bill disallows marijuana to be administered in its raw form and wishes to extract only the active chemicals, this would require a series of research and validations because even though there are already enormous amount of researches about marijuana from other countries like the US, the problem is that these researches cannot be deemed similar to the marijuana that is planted in the Philippines.

Botanically speaking, marijuana plants that are not grown in the same country or soil would have a different plant chemistry. They are not expected to produce the same compounds even though they look morphologically similar. Because of this variation, the marijuana planted in the Philippines and that from another country might not have the same safety profile and might not exert the same therapeutic effects. While I understand that there would be a research center for medical marijuana as part of the bill, it is clear that there will be a long journey before the country sees definite results.

Nonetheless, it is important that we open our minds to the potential benefits of marijuana. May we set aside any political barrier and be open to the possibilities that we could benefit from this disputed plant. If ever the bill becomes a law, I hope it won’t be profit-oriented and instead, patient-oriented and research-oriented with proper regulation and taxation.






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