As debates over medical and recreational marijuana use continue throughout the country, one researcher is finishing up a study that shows the drug is a potent painkiller.
Suzanne Miller is the director of behavioral medicine at Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia. She also sits on the board of trustees for the Compassionate Care Foundation, or CCF, of Egg Harbor Township, N.J. The foundation is a legal medical marijuana dispensary where Miller is conducting her research.
As patients enter the dispensary to purchase marijuana they are handed a clipboard. On a piece of paper cartoon faces, arranged in a row, stare back at them. Some of the faces are smiling and some are crying. Patients are asked to circle the face that best describes the level of pain they are experiencing. It is a common test, known as the Wong-Baker FACES Pain Rating Scale. When the patients return to the CCF for a refill on their prescription they are asked to, again, rate their pain on the scale. The information is used to determine if the patients are experiencing any relief due to the drug.
Miller described the results so far as “absolutely dramatic.” The data show that most patients are reporting a pain level decrease of 30 to 50 percent.
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"You usually see smaller results, about 10 percent, or 20 percent," Miller told the Philadelphia Inquirer.
She said she plans to publish the results of her study by as early as this fall.
That study could help remove some of the stigma attached to marijuana use and possibly get lawmakers to further ease restrictions on the drug. That would be good news for people like Gray Carnevale Sr. who suffers from multiple sclerosis and said he was once addicted to the Vicodin he was taking for his pain. He is now a customer of the CCF.
"My pain was like ten … But when I smoke marijuana, I swear it's zero,” he said.
That’s proof positive that marijuana is real medicine, according to the dispensary’s CEO, Bill Thomas.
“To us, this is medicine. To everyone else, it's something else. It's pot … But this is not Colorado,” he said.
To reinforce that members of his staff all wear white lab coats and there is a strict policy in place that only patients with doctor’s notes may purchase the drug.
New Jersey is one of 22 states that have legalized medical marijuana, doing so in 2010 according to NJ.com. The CCF opened its doors near the end of 2012.
Thomas said he hopes further studies can be conducted. Those studies could help dispensaries prescribe the proper dosages and strains of marijuana to better serve patients. Miller’s study is certainly a step in the right direction.
"This is the drug that needs to be studied," he said.