A Once-Skeptical Doctor Makes the Case for Medical Marijuana

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Medical Marijuana
Photo: powerofforever

Before he quite literally wrote the book on it, Dr. David Casarett mostly thought of medical marijuana “as a joke,” the author of Stoned: A Doctor’s Case for Medical Marijuana told Terry Gross in an interview on “Fresh Air” this week. But after about 18 months of extensive research, which involved both a bit of self-experimentation and reporting excursions that took him as far as Tel Aviv, he’s changed his opinion. Medical marijuana, he now argues, is something his peers in the medical community should be taking seriously. 

I’ve come to realize there really are medical benefits to medical marijuana,” Casarett told Gross. “For many of the patients I spoke with, medical marijuana is not a joke. It’s not funny. It’s a treatment that they’ve come to rely on.” In his research, he found that pot can be especially helpful for patients who suffer from chronic pain, and perhaps particularly neuropathic pain — that is, pain caused by damage to the nerves themselves. This ailment is tricky to treat via traditional drugs like morphine, “so there really is a need to find newer, better treatments” for it, Casarett said. 

Casarett weaves his personal experience into the book as well — as he tells Gross, he eventually turned to medical marijuana in hopes that it would relieve his excruciating back pain. It helped — but not without side effects. Despite his earnest argument that there’s nothing funny about medical marijuana, this next bit is a little funny: He either took too much of the stuff or underestimated its strength, and as a consequence, he explains to Gross, “was really blindsided by some of the acute side effects like confusion and hallucinations, which honestly I should have expected, but didn’t.” What kinds of hallucinations, you ask? “[I heard] air-traffic controllers vectoring flights into and out of the Phoenix airport — those voices were coming from my living room, where there really weren’t any air-traffic controllers.” That’ll happen. Casarett goes on to note, however, that many dispensaries are selling low-THC strains of medicinal weed, should patients want the medical benefits without the high, and/or the risk of inviting imaginary air-traffic controllers into their living rooms.