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Prescriptions For Marijuana For Pain Relief Expected To Continue To Rise

By Ron Krumer

The number of authorizations for medical marijuana could reach as high as 40,000 in the next five years, predicted Dr. Elyad Davidson of Hadassah’s Pain Management Clinic. In the past two years alone, he reported, about 6,000 patients a year have requested and received marijuana for medical purposes. Most of the patients suffer from cancer, multiple sclerosis and other diseases involving serious chronic pain, he said at a recent weekly HMO Clinical Conference sponsored by Hadassah’s Dept. of Anesthesiology and Critical Care Medicine.

Prof. Raphael Mechoullam from the Hebrew University, a recipient of the Israel Prize for Chemistry, who discovered the structure of the active ingredient in marijuana that relieves chronic pain 50 years ago, opened the gathering attended by Health Ministry officials, Hadassah doctors and Hebrew University researchers. He was followed by other experts who addressed various aspects of medical marijuana usage.

Prof. Esther Shohami of Dept. of Pharmacology at the Hebrew University School of Pharmacy described recent research findings about the effectiveness of marijuana treatment. Yael Raz, a clinical pharmacist in that department, referred to the results of a recent study on medical marijuana performed at Hadassah. Among the 42 participants, 20 percent reported improvement in pain relief. The effectiveness of medical marijuana will continue to be examined in further studies, she said.

Dr. Irina Zilberman of Hadassah’s Dept. of Bone Marrow Transplantation presented the results of research conducted on 85 patients that demonstrated that marijuana can be effective as an adjunct therapy for painful bone marrow transplants. Dr. Yaakov Ezra of Hadassah's Dept. of Neurology expanded the discussion to encompass patients suffering from neurological diseases.

For the past two years, Dr. Yehuda Baruch from the Ministry of Health has been solely responsible for authorizing marijuana for medical usage in Israel. A psychiatrist at the Abarbanel Mental Health Center, he stressed the importance of government involvement in managing the authorization, supervision and supply of medical marijuana, noting that the government will soon decide whether to establish an agency for this purpose.

According to these and other experts, it appears medical marijuana will increasing be prescribed for patients with intractable pain – although the form is still open to discussion. "Ws still don’t know whether new methods of consumption in the form of oil and cookies are as effective as smoking it.” Dr. Davidson said. And, he pointed out, clinical studies suggest that addiction, psychosis and progression to more serious drug use are among possible side effects of prolonged use of medical marijuana.

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