CRANFORD, N.J. — Following a failed attempt by Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration to legalize or decriminalize marijuana, reduced restrictions on the drug have created increased opportunities for potential patients and providers.
Many doctors feel marijuana is not a cure-all so the risks — as well as any touted benefits — should be understood.
“It’s really important to establish the effects of medical cannabis because a desired effect for one person might be a side effect for another,” said Dr. Michelle Shuffett, a New York-based consultant who will be a panelist at the Sept. 19 Union County College workshop: “Medical Marijuana: Medicinal and Therapeutic Uses of Cannabis.”
“Patients need to understand that the components of the product, in particular the relative amounts of THC and CBD, are most responsible for the effects,” Shuffett said in an interview with the LocalSource. “Choosing a formulated product is essential, so you know what to expect from a dose every single time.”
Shuffett was referring to tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, cannabidiol, or CBD, the psychoactive elements in marijuana.
The ticketed UCC informational event is intended to educate the public on facts about medical marijuana from health care professionals, according to workshop organizer Jennifer Cabrera, who is also counsel at Vicente Sederberg LLC, a Denver-based law firm focused on cannabis policy and law.
The workshop is the second of three being staged by UCC. The first, “Introduction to Cannabis,” was held in June and a third is set for Nov. 7.
This month’s UCC workshop comes less than three months after Murphy signed the so-called “Jake Honig Law” for expanded medical marijuana in July. Honig was a Howell boy who was diagnosed with brain cancer and used marijuana to treat the symptoms before dying last year at age 7. That was one month after the New Jersey Legislature was unable to agree on a method to either legalize or decriminalize recreational marijuana. A major stumbling block was whether or how to expunge the records of those previously convicted of marijuana possession or use.
The new law Murphy signed eased restrictions on how much medical marijuana a person could buy and how many visits to a doctor were required to qualify for such purchases.
“This act would expand the list of qualifying conditions to include anxiety, chronic pain, migraine, and Tourette’s syndrome,” Cabrera said in a recent interview.
She said the new law will entice new cultivators and dispensaries to open in the next year, and she also isn’t giving up on recreational marijuana.
“I personally hope that these changes are coupled with action by the Legislature on decriminalization and expungement on past criminal conviction,” Cabrera said.
Shuffett is focusing on the promised medical benefits.
“When you consider the risk-benefit profile and its ability to potentially reduce the use of other medications like opioids, medical cannabis should be considered as an option for patients with qualifying conditions,” she said.
Dr. Kirten Parekh, a podiatric surgeon with HVA Medical Group in Fair Lawn, also will be a panelist at the workshop. He started researching medical marijuana when he began to suffer from an as yet undiagnosed chronic illness after he contracted an infection when he traveled to India three years ago.
“I went to see about 16 doctors,” Parekh said. “It’s still undiagnosed. I took all these horrible other immune medications. They said, ‘it might be Crohn’s, it might not be Crohn’s.’”
Crohn’s disease is an inflammatory bowel disease that causes abdominal pain, severe diarrhea, fatigue, weight loss and malnutrition.
Parekh said he is doing much better treating his condition with CBD, and is grateful for his friendship with Scott Sundvor, co-founder of Nima, a company that makes devices that test for food allergens. Both Sundvor and Parekh live with similar chronic conditions and are interested in medical marijuana treatments.
“It was easy for us to enter the market,” Parekh said. “What I realized is, there aren’t many young people in the cannabis space, in the medical or recreational space.”
He emphasized that medical marijuana is still a drug that has its risks and should be taken seriously.
“My goal is for New Jersey to be the authority on medical marijuana and adult-use marijuana, being a Crohn’s survivor,” he said. “That’s my role — to educate them on how to research things for their diagnosis, how to approach your doctor, how to tell your family and friends about this.”