Last summer, the state of Washington amended our medical marijuana laws to include naturopathic physicians and nurse practitioners as providers who are legally permitted to write "authorizations" for medical marijuana use for patients suffering from a few very specific conditions. Since that time, I have worked with a number of patients who have had qualifying conditions and turned away even more folks who may have been suffering from pain but who just did not qualify or did not have the documentation to back up their claims of having qualifying conditions. Authorizations basically state that the doctor has advised the patient on the risks and benefits of medical marijuana and it is the doctor's opinion that the patient could benefit from using it. The law explicitly states that doctors cannot help patients obtain medical marijuana. Oddly, it's not illegal for the patient to possess medical marijuana, but it is illegal federally for anyone to buy or sell it. There are dispensaries, etc out there, but I can't tell my patients where to go. It's just a "Here you go, now you are allowed to treat yourself. Good luck finding some medication!" kind of thing.
One of my patients from last fall showed up in my waiting room last week. When I last saw her, my patient was recovering from brain surgery to remove a prolactinoma with associated pituitary apoplexy. In English, she had a prolactin-secreting tumor in her brain that had been causing bleeding in her pituitary gland, a tiny gland that sits behind the eyes and regulates most of the hormonal signals in the body. She was maybe 100 pounds, soaking wet, appeared very dizzy and disoriented, and was relying on her family to take care of her. She was only 28 and after I saw her, I went into my office and cried. I didn't think I had been able to do anything for her and she looked like she didn't have much longer to live. I wrote her an authorization, thinking that I would have written someone who was suffering like that as many authorizations as there are days in the week if I thought it would have done her any good.
Cut to 6 months later. She had been in to her oncologist's office to get fitted for a radiation crown, to begin irradiating the tumor that they couldn't remove surgically. A few weeks ago, in preparation, she had completed some imaging. When she got to the doctor's office, with a plan to see him every 3-6 months for the foreseeable future, she was told that he couldn't do anything for her. They had checked and re-checked, sent out for a second opinion and finally determined that there were no errors- there was simply no tumor visible in any of her scans. She was told by her oncologist that she no longer had to worry about radiation, about coming in every 3 months to poison her body in an attempt to gain a few more months. He said to come back in a year for a re-evaluation.
When she walked into my office last week, I hardly recognized her. There was no disorientation, no dizziness. She had put on enough weight and had such a healthy glow about her that she now looks like any other young woman walking down the street on a sunny afternoon. My patient told me that the only change she had made to her medication regimen had been to start creating and consuming capsules of hemp oil and hash oil mixed with powdered marijuana leaf. She told me of her oncology visits, that her doctors had told her they were going to launch studies searching for a link between tumor regression and medical marijuana. Most importantly, she told me that she is determined to enjoy life, to live each day in awe of the beauty that surrounds her, that she can find in little, everyday joys. We cried together a bit, and she promised me that she will be doing everything she can to get her story told, to bring more research money to help other cancer patients. Before she left, I was the one thanking her.
The good news is, she's not alone. Norml's blog entry talks about other research, dating all the way back to the 70's.