March 2, 2024

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Medical marijuana a safe alternative | Letters to the Editor

2 min read

I am a retired anesthetist and have been running a medical marijuana clinic for about four years. I was surprised how often people with bipolar disorder come to me to become “legal” because they say cannabis is the mainstay of stability. What follows is my opinion, not as a psychiatrist, but from this unique perspective, I’ve done what I do.

Bipolar disorder is a fairly common condition that affects 1% to 3% of our population. It used to be known as manic depressive disorder. Affected people experience depression, followed by mania. Depression uses up energy and makes personal interaction uncomfortable, while mania can lead people to make impulsive decisions, say or do things they later regret.

Traditionally, bipolar disorder has been treated with a lithium salt and sometimes an anticonvulsant or antipsychotic. Lithium is effective in smoothing out the manic episodes, but it has some serious side effects and over time can damage the kidneys and thyroid. Toxic levels are always a problem and therefore blood tests are needed.

Lamotragin is an anticonvulsant that has been shown to flatten mood a bit, but the side effects include weight gain, mental dullness, rashes, and a host of other things.

People with bipolar disorder can find life very challenging and tend to seek relief with mind-altering substances. Some of these, such as alcohol, narcotics, and benzodiazepines, can be addictive and affect health and wellbeing.

Many people with bipolar disorder end up in 12-step addiction programs. Twelve-step programs teach abstinence from drugs and alcohol in leisure time. Some people still consider cannabis a recreational drug, not medicine. This is unfortunate as cannabis is not addictive and does not appear to lead to abuse when used medicinally. It actually brought a lot of relief to people who practice alcohol and drug abstinence.

Even if medical marijuana is legal in this state, it is still illegal at the federal level and some patients must avoid it in order not to be fired from jobs. Florida doesn’t have any laws yet to protect cannabis patients from it. If your regular doctor knew you were using cannabis until recently, you would be diagnosed with a marijuana use disorder until recently.

Perhaps it is time to consider medical marijuana as a safe and effective medicine.