By Linda Kor
While the debate over the legalization of medical marijuana continues in Navajo County and throughout the state, the man who was awarded a medical marijuana dispensary certificate from the Arizona Department of Health Services for Winslow is looking to gain public support through education.
Scottsdale resident Dixon Oates believes strongly that the medicinal use of marijuana, or cannabis, is a healthier, more effective and safe way to alleviate illness than the use of pharmaceutical drugs. His belief stems from his own experience using the drug to treat the chronic pain he suffers due to injuries sustained while participating in athletics since his youth.
Oates never used marijuana in high school and his one experience in college was not a pleasant one, so he quickly made the decision to avoid the drug and others who used it.
“I didn’t like the way it made me feel and there was a stigma associated with it that I didn’t want around me,” recalls Oates.
It wasn’t until after Oates met a medical marijuana dispensary operator from Colorado that he learned the healing properties of marijuana and the effects of the different strains.
According to Oates, who is a PhD student at Arizona State University with a master’s degree in construction management, the two main types of cannabis are Sativa and Indica, and they can also be combined to cre-ate hybrid strains. Each strain has its own range of effects on the body and mind, resulting in a wide range of medicinal benefits.
Indica provides a deep feeling of relaxation and is an effective pain reducer, while Sativa is known to be more energetic and uplifting, and also an effective pain reducer. Beyond that, Sativa and Indica have very different medicinal benefits and effects, and certain strains can be targeted to better treat specific illnesses.
Oates uses a strain of Indica as needed to alleviate his pain and also help his body relax. While Oates agrees that the abuse of any drug, whether it is marijuana, prescription drugs or alcohol, is prohibitive to good health, he has concerns that the demonizing of marijuana has clouded the value of its medicinal attributes and as a result, people are unnecessarily suffering under the symptoms of their illness or the side affects of their medications.
Oates is certainly not alone in his beliefs. Many physicians and researchers believe that the evidence is overwhelming that marijuana can relieve certain types of pain, nausea, vomiting and other symptoms caused by such illnesses as multiple sclerosis, cancer and AIDS. (Auto Immune Deficiency Syndrome). They also believe marijuana is safer on the body’s system than the harsh synthetic drugs sometimes used to treat them.
Other researchers believe that while marijuana is effective in combating many medical ailments, there is a lack of consistent, repeatable scientific data available to prove marijuana’s medical benefits. As a result, they believe there are less dangerous medicines approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that offer the same relief from pain and other medical symptoms.
Those in opposition also argue that marijuana contains over 400 other chemicals and little is known about their effects when inhaled. There is also the concern that smoking marijuana brings the smoke in contact with lung tissues for long periods of time, which irritates the lungs and damages the way they work.
Oates understands the concern of inhaling cannabis, especially for those already experiencing respiratory problems, but notes that there are alternatives to smoking. “The same effects can be obtained through the use of THC tinctures placed under the tongue or added as an ingredient to hard candies or other edibles,” he ex-plained.
That option is not one available to patients who grow their own plants. According to state law, edibles made with marijuana extracts are only allowed for distribution through ADHS approved dispensaries and can-not be made by medical marijuana patients growing their own plants; to do so would be classified as manufacturing a narcotic drug, equivalent to heroin or LSD, and could result in jail time and fines. A lawsuit hoping to change that distinction has been filed by Charise Voss Arfais, a medical marijuana patient. The suit is currently pending in Maricopa County Superior Court.
Public fear regarding marijuana is likely based on how the plant has been abused through recreational use, not on its medicinal benefits. A history of marijuana use in America noted on the website for Narcotics Anonymous shows that marijuana has been used for thousands of years in cultures throughout the world for medicinal purposes. For nearly a hundred years, from 1850 until 1942, marijuana was listed in the United States Pharmacopeia and was prescribed for various conditions, including labor pains, nausea and rheumatism. When in the early 1900s recreational marijuana use became associated with civil unrest in America, local jurisdictions began legislating bans on marijuana. A campaign conducted in the 1930s by the U.S. Federal Bu-reau of Narcotics (now the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs) sought to portray marijuana as a power-ful, addicting substance that would lead users into narcotics addiction. It is still considered a “gateway” drug by some authorities, although there are no studies that indicate either statement is accurate.
In the 1950s and 1960s, the drug became a symbol of rebellion against authority used by college students and “hippies.” Then, in 1970, the Controlled Substances Act classified marijuana along with heroin and LSD as a Schedule I drug having the relatively highest abuse potential and no accepted medical use.
In later years the “zero tolerance” climate of the Reagan and Bush administrations resulted in passage of strict laws and mandatory sentences for possession of marijuana, and in heightened vigilance against smuggling at the southern border of our nation. After over a decade of decreasing use, marijuana smoking began an upward trend once more in the early 1990s, especially among teenagers.
Because marijuana is still classified as a Schedule I drug and considered illegal by the federal government, medical research remains restricted and tightly controlled.
In 2010, the University of California Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research announced the findings of a study that utilized the so-called “gold standard” FDA clinical trial design, and concluded that marijuana ought to be a “first line treatment” for patients with neuropathy and other serious illnesses.
Since 1968, the University of Mississippi has maintained the nation’s only legal marijuana farm through a grant from the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). UM research-ers have studied cannabis to develop new medicines and new ways of delivering the chemical compounds in marijuana, particularly tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), to treat a range of chronic conditions from nausea due to chemotherapy for cancer patients to neuropathic pain for multiple sclerosis patients.
In addition, a 1995 review prepared for the World Health Organization, stated, “There are no recorded cases of overdose fatalities attributed to cannabis, and the estimated lethal dose for humans extrapolated from animal studies is so high that it cannot be achieved by users.”
For Oates, who volunteers at a Green Cross Patient Center in Phoenix, seeing patients find the relief they need from cannabis validates what he already knew.
“There is too much value and so many possibilities to help. I’ve watched patients come in for help and then see the improvement,” he said. Oates is excited about his cause and the opportunity to inform the public so that educated decisions can be made regarding the use of medical marijuana in the community. He sees the endeavor as a way to help those who are suffering and the community as well.
“This is a non-profit organization. Those who work there will get paid and then there are the capital expenses, but at the end of the year all the assets outside of that have to be given away. This could be a huge opportunity for Navajo County,” he said.
Oates and his business partner, David Berkovits, plan to hold informative meetings for the public to learn about medical marijuana and ask questions. The two men are currently determining a site for the dispensary in Winslow and must submit their plans for the dispensary to the ADHS no later than June 7.
By Linda Kor