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MS Sufferer Montel Williams Makes the Case for Medical Pot

Talk show host Montel Williams suffers from multiple sclerosis. Read his impassioned and informed letter asking the governor of Connecticut to legalize medical marijuana.
 
 
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Editor's note: Connecticut may become the 13th state in the country to permit the use of marijuana for medical purposes. After legislation was passed in the state legislature this month, it is now up to Gov. M. Jodi Rell. What follows is a letter of support from Montel Williams.

Dear Governor Rell,

I'm writing you today to ask for your support for HB 6715, the Compassionate Use Act. This is an important piece of legislation that should become law.

Outside my work as a talk-show host, I have for several years spoken out about my use of medical marijuana for the pain caused by multiple sclerosis. That surprised a few people, but recent research has proven that I was right -- right about marijuana's medical benefits and right about how urgent it is for states such as Connecticut to change their laws so that sick people aren't treated as criminals.

Back in March, I came to Hartford to participate in a press conference with patients, legislators and caregivers, and all of us shared powerful personal stories about what this legislation really means. It was a powerful experience. The bipartisan support for this legislation is extraordinary, and is indicative of the moral urgency behind this issue.

If you see me on television, I look healthy. What you don't see is the mind-numbing pain searing through my legs like hot pokers.

My doctors wrote me prescriptions for some of the strongest painkillers available. I took Percocet, Vicodin and OxyContin on a regular basis -- knowingly risking overdose just trying to make the pain bearable. But these powerful, expensive drugs brought me no relief. I couldn't sleep. I was agitated, my legs kicked involuntarily in bed, and the pain was so bad I found myself crying in the middle of the night.

All these heavy-duty narcotics made me almost incoherent. I couldn't take them when I had to work, because they turned me into a zombie. Worse, all of these drugs are highly addictive, and one thing I knew was that I didn't want to become a junkie. When someone suggested I try marijuana, I was skeptical -- but desperate. To my amazement, it worked when these other legal drugs failed. Three puffs and within minutes the excruciating pain in my legs subsided. I had my first restful sleep in months.

I am not alone. A new study from the University of California, published Feb. 13 in the highly regarded medical journal Neurology, leaves no doubt about that. You see, people with MS suffer from a particular type of pain called neuropathic pain -- pain caused by damage to the nerves. It's common in MS, but also in many other illnesses, including diabetes and HIV/AIDS. It's typically a burning or stabbing sensation, and conventional pain drugs don't help much, whatever the specific illness.

The new study, conducted by Dr. Donald Abrams, looked at neuropathic pain in HIV/AIDS patients. About one-third of people with HIV eventually suffer this kind of pain, and there are no FDA-approved treatments. For some, it gets so bad that they can't walk. This was what is known as a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial, the "gold standard" of medical research. And marijuana worked.

The very first marijuana cigarette reduced the pain by an average of 72 percent, without serious side effects. What makes this even more impressive is that U.S. researchers studying marijuana are required to use marijuana supplied by the federal government -- marijuana that is famous for being weak and of poor quality. So there is every reason to believe that studies such as this one underestimate the potential relief that high-quality marijuana could provide.

Medical marijuana has allowed me to live a productive, fruitful life despite having multiple sclerosis. Many thousands of others all over this country -- less well-known than me but whose stories are just as real -- have experienced the same thing.

The U.S. government knows marijuana works as a medicine. Our government actually provides medical marijuana each month to five patients in a program that started about 25 years ago but was closed to new patients in 1992. One of the patients in that program, Florida stockbroker Irvin Rosenfeld, was a guest on my show two years ago.

But 38 states -- including Connecticut -- still subject patients with illnesses such as MS, cancer or HIV/AIDS to arrest and jail for using medical marijuana, even if their doctor has recommended it. It's long past time for that to change.

Here in Connecticut, a bipartisan group of legislators has introduced a bill to protect patients like me from arrest and jail for using medical marijuana when it's recommended by a doctor.

Similar laws are working well in 12 states right now, with New Mexico passing its law just a few months ago. These laws work, Governor. And public safety has not been an issue --according to professor Mitch Earlywine at the State University of New York, states with medical marijuana laws have actually seen a decrease in marijuana use by adolescents.

Governor, this bill deserves your support. Sick people shouldn't be treated as criminals.

Sincerely yours,
Montel Williams

 
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