Medical marijuana advocates: Hold tests to end 'doomsday' fears
MANILA, Philippines – Will legalizing marijuana for medical purposes lead to "doomsday scenarios" of rampant abuse? For advocates of the proposed medical marijuana bill, a well-controlled clinical trial should be conducted to allay these fears.
In a press conference on Wednesday, August 19, doctors and patients called for the passage of House Bill 4477 or the Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis, which has been pending with the House committee on health since it was filed by Isabela First District Representative Rodolfo Albano III over a year ago.
The bill cites the "confirmed beneficial and therapeutic uses" of marijuana to treat chronic diseases, but the controversial measure is contested by some medical groups on grounds of their "moral and ethical responsibility" to ensure their patients' safety.
But for some doctors and patients, the issue is no longer about the medical benefits of marijuana, but on how it can be implemented and regulated in the Philippines.
One way to do that is by conducting a controlled clinical research where participating patients are carefully screened and registered, said Dr Jorge Ignacio, chair of the University of the Philippines-Philippine General Hospital Cancer Institute.
Doing so will ease fears and the common perception that cannabis is only for recreational use.
"We are beyond that now. Science has progressed far enough….This bill stresses medical use," Ignacio said.
"For all those afraid of legalizing medical marijuana, instead of opposing it, help us alleviate the fears. If abuse is what you fear, a well-controlled clinical research where we can analyze the benefits of medical marijuana is the answer," he added.
He also stressed that the issue over legalizing medical marijuana goes beyond emotional appeals.
"Many patients are waiting. Each time a child suffers a seizure, brain cells die. How many more days will parents endure to see their children suffering?" he asked.
For some patients, medical marijuana provides the "only hope" to alleviate the pain suffered by their loved ones.
Romeo Ballesteros, father of 8-year-old Sachi, said his son has been taking 5 anti-epileptic drugs for years. Sachi has infantile hemiplegia and epilepsy.
The drugs, however, have not significantly improved Sachi's quality of life as he continues to suffer from hour-long convulsions, he said.
Ballesteros now wants to be legally allowed to explore alternative options for his son, just to improve his quality of life.
"What we're after is to improve Sachi's quality of life…There's no exact science for epilepsy. So if that's the case and the drugs are no longer working, why not try an alternative option like medical cannabis?" he said.
He added that research has proven the medicinal benefits of cannabis, but that fears over rampant substance abuse and the common perception of recreational use has overshadowed the benefits.
"The issue here is not if cannabis has medicinal use. What do we fear? It's always the doomsday scenario, the fear of the unknown. We have to be more open," he said.
Ballesteros added that the advocates are calling for "compassionate use," which would take into account safeguards and proper training to ensure that it is used properly.
"If the issue is how do we implement this measure in the Philippines, then let's sit down and discuss it. The issue is not medicinal. The issue is how do we do this in existing regulations of the Philippines. Because this is our only hope," he said.
Ang NARS party-list Representative Leah Paquiz also underscored provisions in the proposed measure that will serve as safeguards against possible abuse.
If enacted, HB 4477 will establish a Medical Cannabis Regulatory Authority, a compassionate center, and safety compliance facilities. Paquiz said the facilities are tasked to conduct more research on the medicinal uses and benefits of marijuana.
While the bill is still pending, Paquiz said she is optimistic that lawmakers will be aware of patients' needs for alternative options.
The health department earlier said it does not accept as medicine marijuana in its herbal form, but added that it is not yet closing its doors on the proposed measure. (READ: PH bishops OK marijuana use for the terminally ill)
"House Bill 4477 is not just a health policy. It's a hope policy – hope for Filipino families who want to alleviate the pain suffered by their loved ones," Paquiz said. – Rappler.com