DENVER, Colo. (KATV) - Next week, Arkansas could become the first state in the south to approve the use of marijuana for medicinal use.
The stricken and suffering in Colorado already have the option to manage their pain with pot.
Tonight we will take a look at the idea of marijuana as medicine.
Many doctors will tell you that there is no medicine that you ignite before using. That medicine should be approved by the FDA, not a vote of the people. That marijuana is not a true medicine.
But if you visit with a person who is successfully treating a debilitating condition or a disease with cannabis, it may be enough to make you wonder.
Michael Williamson suffers from multiple sclerosis.
But he says he suffers a lot less because he can legallyat least in the eyes of his home stateuse marijuana.
"My quality of life hands down has tripled since moving to Colorado and having access to safe medicine," says Williamson.
Williamson first tried marijuana while traveling in Amsterdam. He says he noticed immediate reliefthat for the first time he felt normal.
When he returned to Florida he was forced to find marijuana from street dealers.
"It was so inconsistent as far as quality went," says Williamson. "Prices were really inflated. Sometimes they had it, sometimes they didn't. But also it wasn't a very comfortable purchasing environment, you know?"
Dr. Alan Shackelford of Aurora is Williamson's doctor.
"It really wasn't until the last three years that I began to research and read extensively about what studies have been done on cannabis," says Dr. Shackelford. "And I was absolutely amazed."
Dr. Shackelford has written marijuana recommendation cards for about 600 active patients.
Once each patient gets the green light to go green, most visit a dispensary.
It's not difficult to find a dispensary in Denver. But that is not the case in every Colorado community. 44 cities and 30 counties have voted to ban dispensaries. 43 percent of Colorado residents live in areas where marijuana businesses are not allowed.
If Issue Five passes, Arkansas communities will have the same option.
And the number of non-profit, state-run dispensaries will be limitedat least initiallyto about 30 statewide.
Once a patient does find a dispensary, then he or she mustthrough trial and errorwork to determine what dose and delivery method works best.
"To an extent there is a degree of exploration that people need to go through because we don't really understand this terribly well," says Dr. Shackelford. "I don't recommend smoking itever."
South of Denver in Colorado Springs, another doctor has a very different opinion about marijuana as medicine.
"It isn't a medication," says Dr. Ken Finn. "Because it doesn't have a dosea frequency. We don't fully understand the pharmacodynamics. We don't fully understand its potential drug interactions. There is no training for physicians on how to use this. They don't say wellyou need to smoke one bong three times a day to get benefit. Or two. Or a joint. Or a brownie. Nobody knows."
Dr. Finn says there have been many unintended consequences in Colorado since marijuana for medical use was legalized by voters 12 years ago.
For example, Dr. Finn says marijuana is more socially acceptable and more accessible to kids.
Dr. Finn is concerned about the drug's affect on a developing brain, especially since today's marijuana strains can be 10 times more potent than the pot that was smoked in the 60's.
"Kids and adolescents that start using at an earlier age are less likely to obtain a high school or college degree," says Dr. Finn. "Heavy uses over a long period of time have demonstrated a decrease in their IQ."
Dr. Shackelford counters that no one has ever died from a cannabis overdose.
He says it is safer than prescription drugs and, in some cases, more effective.
"So if you can achieve a similar outcome with a treatment that has no such severe side effectswe should all be considering that," says Dr. Shackelford.
"I'm able to do my job," says Williamson. "I'm able to do my school work. I'm able to focus. I meanit's given me my life back."
Few major studies have been done on marijuana as medicine because in the eyes of the federal government the drug is illegal and has no medical value.
And in Colorado its use as medicine is not covered by insurance.
Voters in Arkansas will weigh in on this issue next week.
Air date: November 2nd, 2012