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Why South Floridians should let Florida ‘go to pot’

Dr. Adam Splaver
Dr. Adam Splaver

We live in interesting times. Twenty-three states and the District of Columbia have enacted laws to legalize medical marijuana. Ten additional states, including Florida, have it on the ballot. On Nov. 4, Floridians will decide whether medical marijuana can legally be dispensed to reduce painful symptoms of many chronic diseases.

The debate is a hot topic of discussion. The issue also is prominently displayed on Interstate 95 billboards where seminars on the business of legal marijuana are being advertised. There seems to be no debate that legalizing medical marijuana can be a good thing for the economy. But what about for medicine?

Rarely are we given an opportunity to participate in a process where we can make a substantial statewide impact. Let me be clear from the start: My vote will be cast in favor of legalizing medical marijuana.

In my cardiology practice, the focus is providing patients with every available opportunity to increase their quality of life, not just in promoting longevity. The prescriptions I write are not strictly for medications to treat symptoms, but part of a collaborative effort based on the root cause of the patient’s medical condition.

My goal is to identify contributing genetics, diet and environmental factors, and then adapt the best practices of traditional and complementary medicine to reduce risk factors and promote a better lifestyle. Legalization of medical marijuana totally meshes with my philosophy of care.

To be clear, I do not endorse widespread smoking of marijuana. There simply are too many documented respiratory side effects and carcinogenic connections, although smoking medical marijuana could be a proper prescription in some cases. However, there is a form of marijuana in pill form, Marinol, that I currently prescribe to patients to stimulate their appetite. When ingested, the only side effect is the “munchies,” which is why this pill is so effective for those suffering from loss of appetite.

Case in point: I have a 38-year old chemotherapy patient who lost 23 pounds. With the help of Marinol, he has started regaining his weight and strength. A 74-year-old advanced heart patient lost significant weight due to cardiac cachexia. With Marinol, he gained and maintained his weight. An 84-year-old woman with dementia is now off her feeding tube, and a 23-year old anorexic businesswoman is eating normally and regaining her self-confidence.

I have seen the positive results of Marinol, and would like to see others benefit.

So, if Marinol is currently available and being utilized, why the November vote? Marijuana is like a cake with many different ingredients. Each ingredient has a role in the baking process, but it’s the interaction between these components that is equally crucial.

Despite what you may hear, there is more to marijuana than just THC. Another cannabinoid produced in high concentrations in certain plants is cannabidiol, which is not psychoactive and has been shown to block the effect of THC in the nervous system.

Research also has shown cannabidiols mitigate cardiovascular effects in animals and reduces inflammation. More trials are needed to determine whether it can stave off the effects of heart attacks. And what about the other 350-plus ingredients in marijuana? We know they exist, but we can’t understand the benefits or side effects until we do the research. And, we can’t do the research while medical marijuana remains illegal.

I believe that legalizing medical marijuana opens the door for much-needed research that could help lead to additional beneficial uses for the medical use of this plant. Legalizing medical marijuana also ensures consistency and reliability of the product, while regulating those growing it.

The more we regulate the industry, the greater the safety factor ... and the greater our opportunity to improve the quality of life for many people currently suffering with ALS, epilepsy and other conditions.

As I see it, a “yes” vote for medical marijuana is a vote for better health. And that’s something we all can live with.

Dr. Adam Splaver, co-founder of NanoHealth Associates, is the medical director of echocardiography at Memorial Healthcare System. nanohealthassoc.com

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