SOUTHBOROUGH, Mass. — "I'm not here tonight to change your vote," Dr. Louis Fazen III told those attending his medical marijuana talk at the Southborough Library on Tuesday evening.
Fazen, the chairman of the Southborough Board of Health, said the purpose of his talk was to focus on the facts surrounding Question 3, which would legalize medical marijuana in Massachusetts if approved by voters on Nov. 6. The proposed initiative would allow the Department of Public Health to license non-profit "treatment centers" to grow and distribute marijuana. The drug would be available to individuals who possessed a certification from their physician saying they suffer from a debilitating condition. These include, but are not limited to, cancer, glaucoma, AIDS, hepatitis C, Parkinson's disease and multiple sclerosis.
Seventeen states and Washington D.C. have laws on the books allowing medical marijuana in some form.
Marijuana does possess some medicinal properties, Fazen said, which are most effective when it is smoked, rather than ingested, due to the ease by which the chemical reaches the bloodstream through the lungs. For example, the drug is known to reduce glaucoma symptoms. It also reduces nausea and improves appetite, which can be particularly useful for those undergoing chemotherapy for cancer. "There aren't too many drugs that improve your appetite, so that could be a unique feature," Fazen said.
He also said that marijuana is believed to be statistically less addictive than most drugs, including alcohol and tobacco.
"There's an addiction rate with prescribed medicines," he added. "We shouldn't forget that as well. If it could be used to lower narcotics use, that would be great.
Unlike most medications, however, Fazen did not believe many private insurance providers would be willing to cover it. "The patients are most likely going to have to pay cash," he said. "I just don't think that's going to work out well."
Patients who rely on Medicare or Medicaid will almost certainly have to pay cash, he added, because marijuana is still illegal under Federal law.
"For people who have chronic pain, this is a real weakness," Fazen said.
Fazen, pointed out, however, that quite a bit is still unknown about marijuana, partly because strict Federal laws make it difficult to study. He mentioned studies that show the drug's negative effects on memory and the respiratory system.
Ultimately, Fazen said that, as a doctor, he would prefer more information.
"I think there's some promise for marijuana as a medicinal agent some time in the future when we study it," he said.
Following the talk, some residents remained concerned.
"I worry about our children mimicking their parents and what they do," said Joyce Macknauskas.
Fazen replied: "I'll have to leave that up to you to answer that in your own homes."