Our medical cannabis law fails patients who have unexpected surgery and need pain management. Cannabis has been shown to reduce pain for many patients. Some 50 million Americans live with chronic or severe pain. In light of America’s opioid crisis, physicians and patients often want relief from prescription painkillers other than opioids and other remedies that are hard on the body.

Dr. Donald Abrams, a professor of clinical medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, reportedly helped review research on cannabis for a 2017 report from the U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. The findings showed that cannabis best helped manage nerve and cancer-related pain. Furthermore:

  • In a review of 16 published studies including more than 1,700 participants with chronic nerve pain, German researchers found that cannabis-based remedies increased the number of people who reported a 50 percent or more reduction in pain relief.
  • In a small study of 47 patients with Parkinson’s disease, Israeli researchers found a 27 percent improvement in pain with cannabis use.
  • A study from the European Academy of Neurology found that cannabinoids given at various doses eased pain in migraine patients by 40 percent or more. It helped cut pain in people with cluster headaches if the patient had a history of childhood migraine, according to WebMD.

Checking into The Queen’s Medical Center, I told Admissions and my doctors that I would not use addictive opioids to reduce my post-surgery pain. I asked how to get cannabis in edible forms and in the proper dosage. The answer was that you can’t get it at the hospital.

Queens Hospital Same Day Surgery sign.
Queen’s Medical Center. The author recently was a patient and was surprised to learn about restrictions on subscribing medical cannabis. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

I did not have a Medical Cannabis card when I checked into the hospital for this unexpected surgery. Post-surgery, I lacked the mobility to go to Chinatown or even to another location to get a doctor’s prescription, and was left without a way to use Hawaii’s Medical Cannabis Program.

Instead, I was offered pain relievers that potentially can damage your liver. My surgery was successful, thanks to the highly skilled medical team. But post-surgery patient care has a gaping hole: liver damage versus natural cannabis products? Not a hard choice.

Although Hawaii statute appears to allow the Department of Health to authorize products that might include edible cannabis-infused products, the definition in statute limits the products to only those listed, including lozenges. As of 2018, Hawaii lawmakers stated that they want to establish a working group to study edibles.

A Failed Program

To date, none of the physicians I asked about cannabis are enrolled in the medical cannabis program. Doctors have explained that they don’t specialize in the few and limited areas permitted under the law. That law must be broadened to leave it to medical professionals — not legislators — to determine when cannabis may be beneficial for patients. With one exception, legislators aren’t physicians, so it’s time for us to enable professionals to do their job.

I recognize that Queen’s, with some federal funding, has restrictions because Congress still needs to remove cannabis from Schedule 1 of the Controlled Substances Act. But the Legislature can expand the medical cannabis program, as some 32 other states have done, so more physicians can participate to the benefit of patients.

This current program fails many patients who need these natural pain-relieving benefits. It’s time for the medical profession to step up, and time for legislators to release the stranglehold on a natural product that can relieve pain, bring comfort and not kill like opioids.

You can count on my pursuing this with colleagues when I am back at the Capitol this month. There is time during this session for legislators to pass this bill for patients. Once again, I ask: Legislators and doctors — liver damage, opioid addiction or natural cannabis? Not a difficult choice, is it?

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