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After four decades of using strong prescription drugs to treat Crohn’s disease, a chronic digestive disorder, Patty developed an aggressive form of skin cancer.
“It’s because my body has been suppressed for so long, it can’t fight it (cancer),” the Wisconsin resident said.
Patty, who has worked at her father’s restaurant for 27 years, now struggles to handle full-time duties.
“I’m trying to get disability, but I’ve been denied once already. I don’t plan on quitting working. I just need help. I need help because I can’t do a full-time job,” Patty said.
The Cannabis Question is a series exploring questions about proposals to legalize marijuana in Wisconsin.
In March 2017, a friend who lives in New Mexico, where medical marijuana is legal, mailed her Buddha Tears, a cannabis oil product containing cannabidiol (CBD), and THC, the psychotropic component of cannabis. After consuming a tiny amount of the oil each day — as well as smoking marijuana — Patty said she saw a massive improvement in her condition.
“Unfortunately, I have to smoke everyday, because if I don’t, I will be in the bathroom all the time,” said Patty, who asked that her last name not be published because she is using an illegal substance.
But these days, Patty is again struggling with the symptoms.
“My connection (for CBD and marijuana) got cut off,” she said. “I’m very angry.”
While Patty and others have found success treating their medical ailments with cannabis, the drug remains illegal in Wisconsin.
And because of its status as a Schedule I drug — the most restrictive classification — there has been limited research in the United States about its effectiveness as medicine. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has authorized one component of cannabis to treat serious and rare seizure disorders, as well as three drugs with synthetic cannabis substances; no other uses have been approved.
Although it remains illegal federally, 33 states and the District of Columbia have authorized medical use of cannabis. A bipartisan group of lawmakers has proposed legalizing it for medical use in Wisconsin, and another group of Democratic lawmakers introduced a bill in October to decriminalize possession of less than 28 grams. But Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, remains opposed.
An April poll conducted by the Marquette Law School Poll showed that 83 percent of registered voters polled support the use of marijuana for medical purposes with a doctor’s prescription.
“When issues receive more than 70% support from registered voters in Wisconsin, the Legislature needs to listen and act,” said Rep. David Bowen, D-Milwaukee.
According to Dr. Angela Janis, director of psychiatry for University of Wisconsin-Madison’s University Health Services, Schedule I drugs, including marijuana, are considered to have no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse, whereas for Schedule II drugs, there is less potential for abuse, and there is some therapeutic benefit.
Janis is intimately familiar with this distinction. In addition to her university job, Janis is chief medical officer at LeafLine Labs, a Minnesota-based medical marijuana company.
“To put this in perspective: methamphetamine is Schedule II because it’s approved for obesity. Cocaine is Schedule II because it’s approved for nasal surgery since it can constrict your blood vessels as they do surgery in your nose. So that’s the bar for what ‘medical benefit’ means,” Janis said.
According to Janis, cannabis has less abuse potential than any of those substances.
“Cannabis is not appropriately scheduled. And that’s one of the barriers, but not the only barrier, to research,” Janis said.
Janis recommends rescheduling the drug so researchers can further study its properties. Even Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM), which opposes marijuana legalization, is “fully supportive” of drugs containing cannabis that have been approved by the FDA, said Colton Grace, a spokesman for the group.
How marijuana works in the body
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, cannabinoids are substances within the cannabis plant that act on specific receptors in the human brain and body. They are the main active ingredients in the medical products derived from cannabis.
These receptors affect many essential functions, including one’s memory, thinking, concentration and coordination. Interfering with it can have profound effects — both positive and negative.
Two of the most extensively studied cannabinoids are delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and CBD. However, there are dozens of cannabinoids that may also have medical uses.
“Many strains of the cannabis plant can have 60, 70, 80 cannabinoids in them that all interact in different ways,” Janis said.
The National Institutes of Health reported spending $191 million on researching cannabinoids for medicinal use in 2017-18.
Some effects are already known. For example, THC can affect the central nervous system, producing benefits such as decreased vomiting and nausea, increased appetite, reduced pain and anti-inflammatory effects. CBD also acts as an anti-inflammatory, increasing immune function, reducing pain and keeping certain cells from proliferating.
Cannabinoid receptors are not in areas that control breathing, which is why there are no fatal overdoses with marijuana, Janis said….