MEDICAL MARIJUANA
5:00 am
Wed February 20, 2013

Patients Argue for Conditions to be Allowed Under Medical Marijuana Regulations

Eric McCoy
Eric McCoy
Credit Anne Mostue / WGBH

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health is traveling the state this month to hear public opinion on how to regulate medical marijuana.

Beacon Hill’s Eric McCoy, 59, has multiple sclerosis. His upper body is totally mobile, but he has difficulty moving his legs. He navigates the winding, steep streets of his neighborhood with the help of a motorized chair.

McCoy’s apartment is lined with wooden and brass railings, which he uses to lift his body and move around. And just as helpful for mobility, McCoy said, is Marijuana.

“Medical marijuana allows me to live my life everyday,” McCoy said. “It relieves muscle spasms in my legs, allows me to go from point A to point B in my apartment. And that’s what I need to do in order to live properly without assistance.”

McCoy inhales from a vaporizing device that heats marijuana and releases active ingredients. He takes a few other medications -- injections and pills -- for other MS symptoms, such as fatigue. But he has concerns about the side affects associated with the pills.

“I’ve don’t take anything but marijuana for my leg problem -- stiffness, spasms,” McCoy said. “I started using medical marijuana 17 years ago based on the fact that I’d heard other folks with MS were using it and it was helpful. And I’d never used marijuana.”

McCoy inhales from his vaporizer several times a day, as needed, he said. He doesn’t think it has much of an effect on his brain or his mood. He buys marijuana on the black market, and has to leave his apartment building to do so. But now that medical marijuana is legal in Massachusetts, McCoy wants to grow it at home. That’s what prompted him to testify before the state Department of Public Health on Thursday.

“Hello, my name is Eric McCoy and I have MS,” McCoy told the DPH Thursday. “I’m also here because I have difficulty traveling and I request that MS patients should have the hardship cultivation ability.”

But the National Multiple Sclerosis Society was not represented at the hearing. In fact, the organization is not taking a stance on medical marijuana.

“The society does not have a position on medical marijuana,” said Steve Sookikian, spokesman for the New England Chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. “We don’t support or oppose the issue. The society has funded research into the use of orally administered cannabinoids. And we believe more research is needed to determine their efficacy, and particularly their effects on spasticity and pain without cognitive impairment.”

Cancer patients are among the most vocal users of marijuana for medical reasons. But the American Cancer Society does not advocate inhaling marijuana or even legalizing it. Like the MS Society, they’re calling for more research into the benefits of cannabinoids.

But those who are testifying at the hearing speak passionately about the use of marijuana to calm and lessen pain related to cancer, nerve damage, Parkinson’s  disease -- even post-traumatic stress disorder.

Newton’s Scott Murphy, an Iraq War combat veteran, argued for PTSD’s inclusion.

“As you might be aware, we’re losing one soldier a day,” Murphy said tearfully. “If medical marijuana could help one person with PTSD, I hope you would consider that.”

“People very much want their condition not to be excluded, recognizing that only a specific number of conditions were mentioned by name in the statute,” said Lauren Smith, interim commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.

She's been at the hearings and she says the state has received so much input – from patients, pharmacists, doctors, lawyers and lawmakers – it may not make the May 1 deadline to craft regulations.