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S.C. Would Benefit from Medical Marijuana Research

By Dr. Sue Sisley, MD 

Members of state law enforcement, along with the South Carolina Medical Association, recently held a press conference to announce their opposition to a possible medical cannabis law in the estate. As a psychiatrist, former professor, and cannabis researcher, I’ve followed progress on this issue in South Carolina and even testified before state lawmakers in 2017. It was remarkable to hear some of the absurd claims that came from the event, and I felt the need to respond.  

Presenters at the conference offered a litany of dire claims — cannabis is not medicine, it won’t help the well-being of South Carolinians, and it’s just another step toward full legalization. And most extraordinarily, cannabis is the “most dangerous drug in America.” Each one of these claims is false, and clearly so. 

Cannabis is safely used as a medicine by hundreds of thousands of patients across America. Whether it helps cancer patients maintain an appetite after chemotherapy, or reduces painful swelling in Crohn’s patients, or gives people a safer alternative to opiates, cannabis provides relief to patients. Lots of them. Clearly South Carolinians with these and other serious conditions would also benefit.  

Opponents try to skirt its practical use by claiming that because the Food and Drug Administration hasn’t yet approved cannabis as a medicine, it simply isn’t. Cannabis has been used as medicine since before written history, and that use continues today.  

And to claim that medical cannabis is just a step toward legalization for adults is factually incorrect. Thirty-two states have medical cannabis programs, some dating back to the 90s, and only 10 of them have extended protections for all adults. This also overlooks how laws are passed in South Carolina. A majority of lawmakers in both chambers would have to vote in favor of legalization, and the governor would be asked to sign such a bill. Many believe that is a long way off in the Palmetto State. 

And finally, we were told that cannabis is “the most dangerous drug in the U.S.” That is an incredible statement given what we know today. Our society faces the daily scourge from meth, opiate abuse or misuse, ecstasy, and many other drugs that take the lives of those who use them. In its long history of medical use, cannabis has yet to lead to an overdose death. Is it completely free from harm? No — but that is why states regulate and control its use. That is the very point of these medical cannabis programs. We test and label products and limit sales to those who qualify for these reasons, and allow limited access.

Medical use of cannabis helps patients in very real ways, and residents of South Carolina deserve to be treated with the same dignity and respect as patients in so many other states. It’s time for South Carolina to step past the propaganda and false claims and adopt a regulated medical cannabis program for its seriously ill patients.

Dr. Sue Sisley MD is a physician practicing Internal Medicine & Psychiatry and she serves as President of Scottsdale Research Institute. Among other projects, she is the principal investigator for the only FDA-approved randomized controlled trial involving medical cannabis use by combat veterans with severe post-traumatic stress disorder PTSD. She has also participated in studies involving cannabis for pain management, as a substitute for opioids, along with a safety study related to cannabis edibles. 

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