Monday, February 18th, 2019

So you want to get a medical marijuana card?

Apart from their Portland location, the Wellness Connection of Maine also serves patients at their marijuana dispensaries in Brewer and Gardiner. They offer 14 different strains of both indica and sativa.
Courtesy of the Wellness Connection of Maine
Apart from their Portland location, the Wellness Connection of Maine also serves patients at their marijuana dispensaries in Brewer and Gardiner. They offer 14 different strains of both indica and sativa.

Posted on April 20, 2015 in News
By Francis Flisiuk

Despite an outlaw image and often confusing legal status, marijuana is becoming widely accepted as having many medicinal benefits. A survey conducted by the Pew Research Center showed that 77 percent of Americans approve of marijuana for medical purposes. Patients across the country are choosing cannabis over traditional opiates to treat the symptoms of conditions like cancer, alzheimer’s and glaucoma.

In Maine, the medical marijuana industry is thriving, as doctors like James Li in Damariscotta are writing prescriptions for approved patients to stop in at one of the state’s eight dispensaries to pick up a bag, vial or edible of marijuana product. But according to Dr. Li, there are people that try to abuse the system by exaggerating their self diagnoses, in hopes of acquiring a means to a legal high.

“From screening people, I’ve seen people looking around for something that will give them legal standing to use it [marijuana] recreationally,” said Li. “I make very certain to only prescribe it to the people that really need it.”

According to Dr. Li, Maine has a fairly conservative list of 14 conditions that qualify for a prescription of marijuana, including cancer, AIDs, Alzheimer’s, glaucoma and inflammatory bowel syndrome. Maine has purposely excluded the clinically ambiguous anxiety and depression from the list, but one subjective condition remains that provides the avenue for the most rule-bending: pain.

“Anyone can walk into the office and say ‘hey doctor, I’ve got pain,’ and a less scrupulous doctor might hand them a prescription,” said Li. “It’s like an open reason for someone who wants to use marijuana recreationally.”

Like many marijuana doctors, Dr. Li follows strict guidelines to make sure this doesn’t happen, including asking for proof that the patient has been in pain for at least 6 months and that they’ve  unsuccessfully tried other forms of treatment.

“If somebody comes in under the age of 30, they have to have a pretty compelling reason for wanting marijuana, because we want to make sure we’re doing more good than harm,” said Li referring to the negative effects marijuana has on cognitive function in adolescents. “It’s pretty obvious to tell which people are serious.”

“People will find loopholes and ways to exploit the program, it’s inevitable, said Rachel Gates, a junior communications major. “But I think by legalizing marijuana, there would no longer be any need to abuse the program.”

On top of having to show a tremendous need to use marijuana and its 400 individual chemicals as a pain reliever, potential patients also need to have a record free of criminal drug offenses.

Out of 300 USM students surveyed, 265 said they’re aware that marijuana has positive, medicinal qualities. Jordan Leathers, a former biochemistry major, has a marijuana prescription and uses it to ease chronic pain he still feels after an injury he sustained a year ago.

“It alleviates my back pain tremendously,” said Leathers. “I take about an eyedropper of CBD oil and it numbs the pain to the point where I can’t even feel it. You can get wicked medicated.”

Leathers is legally able to carry up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana on his person and cannot be denied employment, housing or education because he smokes marijuana.

Gates has a friend that also suffers from a bad back.

“She sees a chiropractor, which definitely helps her alignment, but ultimately she finds that smoking medical marijuana enables her body, mind and spirit to relax,” said Gates. “And relaxation is absolutely everything.”

Portlander Erin (who wishes to keep her last name anonymous) supports the legalization of marijuana both medically and recreationally, occasionally smoking it herself. Erin said she enjoys seeing the positive effects that marijuana has on her close friend who is fighting throat cancer.

“I think that pot gets a bad rep,” said Erin. “Many people use it to effectively help with many health problems. Considering the opiate epidemic going on in our state, I think that marijuana is pretty tame in comparison.”

“It has amazing health benefits, especially for seizure disorders. I hate the stigma surrounding pot,” wrote an anonymous student on the Free Press marijuana survey.

One of the 34 students who wrote on the survey that marijuana has no medicinal benefits was Isabelle Alenus-Crosby. According to Crosby, marijuana is harmful to both kids and adolescents and can lead to both psychosis and schizophrenia. She also believes that the medical industry is vulnerable to people looking to score some legal bud.

“I know a lot of people who make up pain in order to get legal marijuana,” said Crosby. “They think it makes them cool and popular. However, when I suffered from melanomas I was given regular painkillers which did the trick.”

Dr. Li spoke out against the use of traditional painkillers like Vicodin and Percocet, saying that nowadays we’ve been marketed to use them too much and they can often have fatal side effects.

Li said that he works primarily in the ER and that he’s seen so much death and dying from inadvertent overdoses on opiates. After prescribing patients marijuana, the positive transformation on their health, demeanor and well being was described by him as amazing.

“After they were off their opiates and all their prescription pain medications, I didn’t recognize them; it was remarkable,” said Li. “They began to look and function normally again. I used to be a big skeptic, but then I saw a good proportion of those people found so much relief from medical marijuana that it changed their life.”

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