For patients, physicians, and providers who have experience with medical marijuana, the issue can seem like a straightforward one. As medical marijuana laws expand to new states, it certainly seems clear that support is growing and important progress is being made for patients in pain. But it’s important to understand that the issue may not seem as simple to those who haven’t shared our experiences.
Creating a productive dialogue surrounding medical marijuana requires us to recognize and respect the fact that this issue is challenging for many. Fortunately, history shows us that anyone can evolve in their views about medical marijuana if given the right information and enough time to consider it. Consider, for example, the fascinating story of how Republican Senator Lindsey Graham recently became interested in the issue:
Graham, he is at pains to point out, rejects marijuana for recreational use, but he told POLITICO Magazine, “I am open-minded to the idea that the plant may have medical attributes that could help people.…I’m convinced that we should, as a nation, research the medical applications of the marijuana plant….It could be life-changing. I just want to do it in a scientific way…and the current system doesn’t allow for the research that we need.”
“I have several people that I personally know who have children who have some epilepsy and other diseases,” Graham told POLITICO, “and the parents seem to think this helps. And…what stuns me is how little we know and how much more we could know. Some of these [diseases], like epilepsy, the families tell us that it has changed the child’s life. That’s why I want more research. Is that anecdotal, or is it real? To me, that’s very exciting.” [Politico]
While many of us have felt that excitement for a long time now, Senator Graham’s willingness to begin discussing the issue and working to promote further research is commendable nonetheless. Once an unlikely ally, he is now part of the conversation, and that’s the kind of progress that must happen in order to increase medical marijuana research and improve patient access.
Graham acknowledges, interestingly, that it was his own relationship with families facing pediatric epilepsy that led him to take a closer look at the medical marijuana issue. This is easy to understand, but it’s a rather remarkable development when one considers that the emergence of CBD-rich medicines in the treatment of pediatric seizure disorders has occurred primarily within the past 5 years or so. CNN Medical Correspondent Sanjay Gupta’s groundbreaking coverage of the subject only began in 2013, meaning that many families confronted by life-threating seizure disorders have only recently learned about the role of cannabis-based medicines in treating the condition. By bringing Senator Graham into the conversation surrounding medical marijuana, these families demonstrated one of many critical ways in which they are quickly changing the way both the public and political leadership view the issue.
In the course of our daily work with medical marijuana patients and their caregivers, we’re still learning more all the time. We recognize that this knowledge isn’t immediately available to everyone and it sometimes takes patience and openness to revisit a subject that can at times invite divisive and contrasting perspectives. Fortunately, as new research emerges and brave patients and families share their stories, opportunities for a productive dialogue become more available to us than ever before.