The marijuana discount

Posted by on Sep 15, 2015 in Cancer Care, General Medicine | 9 comments

The marijuana discount

What is not to like about medical marijuana? It treats pain, vomiting, fatigue, anxiety, depression, insomnia, seizures, muscle spasms, Crohn’s disease and allows many cancer patients to resume remarkably normal lives. It is not addictive. It does not interact with other medicines. It acts quickly and is easy to adjust. It can be consumed in numerous ways. It is safer than essentially any other drug; 1500 Tylenol deaths in the USA in the last 10 years … overdoses from marijuana in the entire world literature? None.

To that list, I add another; compared to other medicines, it is down right cheap.

Tom was in my office today. He suffers from severe chemotherapy and cancer induced painful electric shock-like neuropathy of his hands and feet. You know what it feels like when your hand “falls asleep?” Think of that, times ten and all the time.

This incapacitated Tom, leaving him house and essentially chair bound. In response we put him on a cocktail of medicine, including steroids, Lyrica, Cymbala, Neurontin, Oxycontin and Percocet, each with its own side effects, including sleepiness, confusion, loss of taste, nausea, tremors, nightmares, narcotic dependence and severe constipation. Trapped between the eternal burning and handfuls of drugs, he began to wonder whether if it was worth living.

We begged Tom to try medical marijuana, but he resisted this recommendation, because it seemed to conflict with his religious beliefs. Finally, when his minister gave the OK, he was prescribed one ounce of marijuana, per month, through the New Jersey Medical Marijuana Program (NJ MMP).

His neuropathy came under immediate and complete control. He stopped all the medicines, except a rare Percocet. He was able to leave his house, walk long distances and return to life.

Here is the amazing part. Tom’s insurance company paid over $1500 a month, for the pills. One month of marijuana, through a registered NJ dispensary, cost under $600. Not only was there a life changing improvement in his symptoms, with essentially no side effects, there is a 65% marijuana discount.

Great story, right? Happy ending? The NJ MMP saves the day? Unfortunately, no. You see Tom may soon have to stop using marijuana and resume his prior costly caustic cocktail of drugs. Why? His health insurance company will pay for a pile of pills, but not marijuana. Tom must pay. Federal law prohibits the medical use of marijuana; therefore, no insurance company can legally afford to pay for cannabis.

So, let’s do a net calculus. If Tom stops using medical marijuana, he will not have to pay the $500 a month that a disabled cancer patient cannot afford. Instead, he will experience pain, decreased function and increased drug side effects. Judging by the way things were headed, when he was on pills, his life may even be shortened. The insurance company will have to pay $1600 or more a month, as well as the cost of any medical complications or side effects. In other words, Tom will get worse care at far greater cost…the American way.

It is time to legalize medical marijuana throughout the United States. It has fewer side effects than any alternative. It is a better drug for many problems. It is good health care finance. The insurance industry should demand it. Legislators support it. Moreover, patients, in desperate need, would be transformed by it.

9 Comments

  1. Amen. Time for the US to lose the bias we have against this natural wonder.

  2. Yes, it’s long overdue

  3. What it is time for pharma to do is figure out what in weed gives the medical benefit, purify that, turn it into a prescription pill and sell it that way. That way the dose would be standard, it is separate from the drug abuse issues of weed (and weed is not totally harmless to kids’ and young adults’ developing brains), who knows doing it this way might remove the getting high aspect and just leave the medical aspect which would make driving while taking it safer for everyone, make it less likely to be being a drug of choice for abuse…

  4. This is timely (if these links don’t come through live then copy/paste – you get to read 10 free NY Times articles month).

    http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/15/science/newly-risen-from-yeast-thc.html?emc=edit_th_20150915&nl=todaysheadlines&nlid=67284344&_r=0

    An this is indicative of the issues surrounding general medical use.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/27/health/politicians-prescriptions-for-marijuana-defy-doctors-and-data.html

    Frankly if I am insisting that the chemo I am given has science behind it with respect to its efficacy, I would like the same for anything else given to me to treat something. And evidence of what harm it does, what other chemicals I would be ingesting not related to the active ingredient and what is the long and short term consequence of that, and whether or not the benefits outweigh the harm. Otherwise it is going to look suspiciously like snake oil woo. There are some clinical trials, but in my opinion not enough.

  5. I suffer from the same problems as this patient. It is maddening and sleep is only to be had through narcotics at this point. Even my family care physician tells me my best bet is to move to Colorado where I can buy marijuana legally, because that’s the best medicine known for this at this point in time. What’s really crazy is, even on the black market, I could buy marijuana cheaper than that poor soul must pay for it through a “medical discount”. On a general note: Dear lord, when are we in the USA going to wake up from the crazy propaganda we have been spoon fed for the past 50 years about marijuana?

    • Penny, New Mexico is an alternative, and the cost of living is less than Colorado. I don’t know why New Mexico gets ignored. We have snow covered mountains with skiing and snow shoeing. This was the first state to order insurance recognition for partners and same sex marriages, the third state to issue marriage licenses for a legal marriage. Abortion is still legal, carrying a loaded firearm in the car, and open carry is legal too. We have good cancer clinics, marijuana dispeceries. My grandson had a disc crushed in an accident last year. He has his marijuana card, and for ages a person is allowed to grow 3 plants, and carry some bud or the chemical derivative for personnal use. As a Native, I’m asking you to ignore anyone with a gun on their hip or walking down to the neighbors, as they are probably going to carpool to the city shooting range.

      • Indeed you do have a great deal of beautiful places in NM. Been there many times and loved it. Thank you for the good info!

  6. And the consensus among legislators and politicos is that it will never pass in an election year or anywhere near an election year…won’t even make it to the voting stage. Why is that? Does anyone wonder then why the public questions ‘Who is getting rich?’ or believes ‘A cure is being suppressed?’

  7. I agree that we are long overdue for the federal legalization of medical marijuana but unfortunately, as long as big pharma continues to fund our politicians this will never become a reality.

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