N.J. doctors need better understanding of marijuana treatment: Opinion

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In an attempt to explore all avenues of treatment, the parents of Vivian Wilson, a 2-year-old with a severe and rare form of epilepsy called Dravet syndrome, sought my guidance last year. They wanted my medical opinion regarding Vivian’s possible registration into New Jersey’s medical marijuana program. Currently, New Jersey law states the program is open to minors.

Recommending the use of medical marijuana for minors with certain medical conditions remains a heated debate because of the potential long-term effects on the brain, at least according to currently accepted medical research. In order to help avoid such potential medical pitfalls, a neurologist and pediatrician must be involved as part of the monitoring process, especially when alternative therapy is implemented. I completely agree with this approach.

But when attempting to seek out such specialists through a list of participating physicians registered with the state’s program, I was amazed to learn there was a significant lack of interest on the part of the physicians with whom I spoke. This lack of interest was primarily based on the limited knowledge most of the state’s doctors have regarding the treatment capabilities of cannabis. Therefore, they did not feel comfortable recommending its use.

There is a huge gap in the medical community’s understanding and acceptance of cannabis as a drug with the potential to be used as a mainstream treatment choice. However, there is a tremendous amount of scientific research and data out there.

A group of researchers based in Oregon is at the forefront. They are part of a four-year investigation called the m-Scale Project. M-Scale studies and communicates the effects of marijuana for medical purposes. Their research shows that marijuana is technologically capable of successfully treating patients with specific ailments. In fact, it might just be more effective than some of the traditional medications being used today, and without the long list of potential side effects.

This research group functions as an educational resource for physicians and an oversight mechanism regarding how the marijuana is cultivated and crops are used to develop treatments for specific medical conditions. The data are critical for standardization of potency, as well as identification of specific strains of marijuana to be used as treatment for specific ailments. This is similar to how individual drugs are currently engineered for treating specific conditions.

Ultimately, medical marijuana then becomes a treatment alternative, or a complement to enhance various medications patients are prescribed. All of this information is then placed into a central database that is physically accessible and available to doctors, not only aiding them in their diagnosis process, but also tracking patient results — removing the mystery from marijuana.

In addition to credible information and ongoing treatment evaluations, New Jersey should have an independent Medical Oversight Committee. This committee could evaluate and ensure implementation of a formal physician’s training program, as well as constantly reviewing standards and practices for the each state’s medical marijuana program, including cost regulation.

Clearly, New Jersey would strongly benefit from this exact type of medical oversight and treatment research. Instead, the state simply lists specific maladies that medical marijuana may be used to treat. Doctors then register patients and turn them over to dispensaries that offer no medical oversight, and little insight into the cultivation origin and ultimate chemical reaction the cannabis they sell patients will deliver.

New Jersey’s patients, physicians and administrations deserve a reliable education program and equally medically responsible platform for guiding the application and prescribing of the best and most affect medicine choices for patients. There needs to be a better-structured and uniform system to administer and govern the state’s medical marijuana program. Failure to do so will only continue to foster misinformation and abuse to this potentially valuable treatment resource.

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