Because the federal government still considers marijuana one of the most dangerous drugs in the world, it has been next to impossible for most of the healthcare community to discuss the potential medicinal benefits of the herb with its patients for fear that even a semblance of support towards the issue may bring down the hammer in the form lawsuits and prosecution.
Even now, with nearly half the states in the nation having comprehensive medical marijuana laws on the books, finding a doctor or a pharmacist who is willing to go on record to talk about the advantages of cannabis medicine is not an easy task.
It is for this reason that the media world found itself in a state of dismay last week when Walgreens, the largest national retail drug store in the United States, published an informative article on its “Stay Well” Tumblr site entitled, “What is Medical Marijuana?”
The piece, which was written by Dahlia Sultan—Resident Pharmacist at Walgreens and the University of Illinois at Chicago—is an admirable attempt to educate the mainstream consumer on what it means to use cannabis as a treatment option. It begins by giving a brief overview of the history of medicinal marijuana, suggesting that the herb has been used for thousands of years to treat various physical and mental conditions.
“The healing properties of marijuana are due to its high cannabidiol (CBD) content (the non-psychoactive component of cannabis that may be beneficial in treating pain, epileptic seizures and possibly psychoses),” reads the Walgreens piece. “Marijuana also contains tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), a molecule that can stimulate appetite, decrease nausea, reduce pain and produce a psychoactive effect.”
Although the article, clearly, is not an endorsement of medical marijuana, it utilizes a number of studies published by the federal government to show the average reader, especially those with no allegiance to the issue of drug reform, that while there may be some minor risk factors involved with using cannabis, many federal agencies, including the National Cancer Institute, have published research that supports the therapeutic benefits of the herb.
“Research has also shown marijuana provides pain relief in ways traditional pain medicines don’t,” reads the piece. “Medical marijuana can improve appetite and relieve nausea in those who have cancer, and it may help relieve symptoms such as muscle stiffness in people who have multiple sclerosis.”
Since cannabis remains illegal in the eyes of the federal government, pharmacies, like Walgreens, are prohibited from dispensing medical marijuana anywhere in the United States. However, there is an argument to be made that with the nation now home to millions of medical marijuana patients, it should be the responsibility of pharmacists to work with these people, even if it means discussing a federally illegal drug, to ensure the well-being of the patient remains the focus of their overall treatment program.
Many patients across the country use cannabis to remedy specific symptoms of their conditions, while relying on prescription drugs to address other issues. By not giving pharmacists the freedom to discuss medical marijuana, patients are not being properly looked after in the U.S. in the same way they are in other countries.
In Canada, where medical marijuana is legal nationwide, some pharmacies are working to sell medical marijuana to their customers in the same locations they frequent for all of their other healthcare needs. Shoppers Drug Mart Corp, the Canadian equivalent to Walgreens, said earlier this year that, “Pharmacists are medication experts and play a significant role in the prescribing and monitoring of medication to ensure safe and optimal use… We believe that dispensing medical marijuana through pharmacy, like other medications, is the safest option.”
Although it is likely that Walgreens would begin distributing medical marijuana once the federal government makes it legal for the entire nation, the company is not prepared, at this time, to give their customers anything other than information on the topic.
“The content [in the article] is strictly informative, and nowhere do we take any stance on the issue,” Jim Cohn, a spokesman for Walgreens, told the Huffington Post. “It was developed to address some of the questions we’ve received from patients and customers through various channels.”
(Photo Courtesy of Staywell.Walgreens.com)