Cannabis curiosity: answering marijuana questions

After hitting the petition signature goal for a constitutional amendment, recreational marijuana legalization may soon make it on your ballot. It is currently under review by the Florida Supreme Court for a 2024 vote.

If it passes with 60% of the vote, recreational marijuana will become available for sale to people over the age of 21. What would that mean for Southwest Florida residents? What are the pros and cons of marijuana use, and should you consider using it?

Marijuana is made from parts of the cannabis plant that contain substantial amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). THC is often prescribed to patients for pain relief with chronic issues and/or post-surgery treatment.

Cannabis for medical relief

Dr. Wendy Bond, a Fort Myers neurologist and Alzheimer’s researcher who prescribes THC and cannabinol (CBD) products to her patients to help with their medical issues.

“Typically, I deal with the older population, and they’re coming to me as a sort of last resort. They’ve tried all the opiates; they tried all the pain medicine. They’re from the ’60s where, you know, the cannabis was a no go, and they’re trying to come to terms with … something to help with their pain, because this stuff really does work,” she said.

When prescribed powerful opioids, some patients become hesitant to take them due its addictive reputation. Bond explained that pain blockers will temporarily stop a person from feeling pain, but with CBD and THC products, pain relief is gradual, therefore recovery becomes more natural. However, marijuana products have side effects.

“With too much THC use, there’s something that you can get where you start throwing up all the time, even after you stop, so in certain people, we know that it causes them to vomit quite a bit, and the THC use just has to be stopped,” Bond said.

Studies have linked potential liver damage with use of CBD products when taking certain prescription medications.

Development of CBD products has grown, allowing for a larger selection of choices. “Usually what I’ll do for my neurology people is get a supplement that they can put under their tongue,” said Bond, “and make sure that it is at least half CBD and half THC to start them off for their pain. There are edibles or gummies. One of my favorite products is the topicals ointments. They also have the vape, which is pretty concentrated, about 80% TCH as compared to the plant, which is around 25%. But then it doesn’t smell like you’re smoking either,” Dr. Bond added.

Is CBD covered by insurance?

One gray area with prescribed CBD products is whether the cost is covered by insurance companies. Currently, medical marijuana/CBD products will be classified as a medical expense, but the cost will come out of pocket for the patient.

“But a lot of people think that medical marijuana is covered by insurance. We have to explain to them that it’s not so, as it all depends on what route you’re using and how often you need to use it,” said Bond.

The medical marijuana bill passed in 2016, and the 2022 proposal for recreational marijuana use failed to reach ballots despite the petition reaching its signature goal. While this initiative has gained traction, there is a possibility that the vote will be blocked by Florida attorney general Ashley Moody on grounds that it violates the state constitution’s single rule.

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