N.J. Medical Marijuana Law Overlooks Many in Pain

"I have great empathy for them and don't think we should be turning people with illnesses into criminals," he said. "But, at the same time, we had to do a measured approach. In two years, we will revisit the issue and add ailments. But people have gone without medical marijuana all this time and they will have to wait for another day."

Nurses Organization Backs Medical Marijuana

The New Jersey State Nurses Association passed a resolution in support of medical marijuana in 2002, one that was followed by the national organization in 2003.

Ken Wolski, a trained nurse and executive director of New Jersey's Coalition for Medical Marijuana, which fought for a more liberal approach, said the law is too restrictive.

"There are a great many other patients who could benefit from medical marijuana in New Jersey," Wolski said. "It disqualifies half the patients.

"Migraine headaches can be disabling and so can anxiety," he said. "And for people to minimize these conditions proves the legislators are not medical people."

Doctors are divided about the effectiveness of medical marijuana. The active ingredient in cannabis is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), a chemical that has only been proven to help reduce eye pressure in glaucoma, ease nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy in cancer patients and stimulate appetite in AIDS patients.

Marijuana can be added to food or administered in a sublingual spray or through a vaporizer that heats it just below the boiling point to eliminate the byproducts of smoking.

But scientists say medical marijuana shows promise in a host of other conditions. A 1999 report from the Institute of Medicine, chartered by the National Academy of Sciences, concluded that the active ingredients could be isolated and developed into effective pharmaceuticals.

About 73 percent of Americans say adults should be allowed to legally use marijuana if their doctors prescribe it, according to an October poll by NBC and the Wall Street Journal.

Brian Sercus, a 28-year-old Wharton resident who has cystic fibrosis, won't have access to medical marijuana under New Jersey's new law. The chronic disease causes thick, sticky mucus to build up in the lungs and digestive tract.

"In the later stages, wasting is a problem.," said Sercus, who left a job in Boston as a health care analyst in October to move back with family in New Jersey. "My appetite just goes. I end up losing weight because my body consumes a lot of calories just to maintain itself. It takes a lot of energy to fight the constant infection in my lungs."

Sercus must take in a minimum of 5,000 calories a day and is prescribed Marinol, a synthetic form of THC, to keep his appetite up. But he said marijuana, which he adds to baked goods, works better. It also helps his mood.

With a condition so serious that he is considering a lung transplant, Sercus combats bouts of depression and anxiety with the help of marijuana. Marijuana also helps the arthritis that he developed as a result of the illness.

"In college, it was something fun to do but, as I got sicker, it really helped me out psychologically," he said. "I was fortunate never to run into the law."

Curious about the effects of marijuana on those with cystic fibrosis, Sercus went online and discovered many others found it helpful for their symptoms.

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