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Medical Weed Is Just the First Step, Are You Ready For THC Patches?

Today, in 20 states and the District of Columbia, your grandparents, former high school teachers, or sweet 7-year-old Mykayla Comstock can buy legal medical marijuana (with a patient ID card). The resounding praise of medical marijuana has grown recently, especially with Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s support and the release of his documentary Weed.

Yet many people cringe at the idea of seeing someone smoke marijuana in public, and ironically, many of the intended beneficiaries of medical marijuana (seniors) believe that smoking marijuana is morally wrong. This year’s Pew Research Survey showed that 51% of people said, “People using marijuana around [me] would make [me] feel uncomfortable,” and 48% of the Silent generation (seniors) believe that it is morally wrong.

What if there were newer, better ways to reap all of the healing benefits of medical marijuana without having to smoke it? Behold the first transdermal THC patch, an innovative solution to smoking a joint. The patch, produced by Mary’s Medicinals, right outside of Denver, is the first of many products exclusively crafted to be “accurately dosed and cleanly delivered, [and] discrete to use.” The patch and other forthcoming products could be promising news for three interest groups involved in the medical marijuana debate: opponents of legalized marijuana in any form, people that could benefit from medical marijuana prescriptions, and medical researchers.

1. Opponents of legalized marijuana in any form. This group includes activists that disapprove of all drug use, family-centered organizations like MADD, and government sponsored drug control organizations like ONDCP. While these individuals are not very receptive to ideas about legalizing marijuana — even medicinal marijuana — the patch, capsules, tablets, and other pharmaceutical-looking substances could be seen as a compromise to them. (It is worth noting that some of these products, like sublingual tablets, already exist.)

Firstly, these products eliminate the danger of carcinogens that people are exposed to when smoking. Both parental organizations and government organizations have been fighting smoking for years, so it would be wise of them to favor medicinal marijuana solutions that do not expose individuals to carcinogens. Additionally, the pharmacological appearance of the patch, pills, and tablets implies medicinal use over recreational use, which should win points with family-centered organizations that don’t want little Suzy to find out that her elderly neighbor smokes pot.

2. People that could benefit from medical marijuana prescriptions. Many of the potential beneficiaries of medical marijuana are elderly. Ironically, as shown by the poll above, they are also the population that is most critical of and has the most moral qualms with marijuana use. If they, as a cancer or an AIDS patient, hear that they might benefit from medical marijuana, they should definitely try it, right? I would hope so. The patch, capsules, and future unknown solutions are all ways that the elderly can relieve pain without the social stigma from their peers or fear of judgment.

On the other side, 7-year-old Makayla Comstock's mother gave her lime-flavored cannabis capsules when her chemotherapy produced poor results. Comstock’s mother probably didn’t want her 7-year-old daughter smoking anything, but wanted a medication with the analgesic properties of cannabis. Thanks to recent technology, the lime-flavored capsules could have tasted similar to those Flintstones vitamins that millennials used to love.

3. Medical researchers. Anyone that knows anything about the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) knows that it is difficult to get approval for research when it studies the positive effects of a drug. As Dr. Gupta pointed out, only 6% of the more than 20,000 papers about marijuana studied the benefits — the vast majority of studies approved by NIDA study the harms and simply corroborate existing evidence about harm. With the growth of alternative methods of cannabinoid consumption (like the patch or the tablet), NIDA may be more open to research regarding the benefits of medicinal marijuana. As shown by their recent statement on “marijuana myths,” change will be slow, as it is in any government agency. However, there could be expanded opportunities for medical researchers in the future to develop even better, more effective, and more discrete technologies than the THC patch.

The advent of the transdermal THC patch could change public perception of medicinal marijuana. For the opponents, it (hopefully) represents a remedy for the suffering, and it more closely resembles a birth control patch or nicotine patch than an illegal drug. For the suffering, it could be a way to alleviate pain without contradicting their morals or exposing themselves to harmful carcinogens. Monumentally, for the medical researchers, it could be a window of opportunity to begin research on methods of marijuana alleviation that NIDA formerly disapproved. Who wants to guess what they’ll come up with next?  

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