HARBOR TOWNSHIP, N.J. ó Before buying cannabis at southern
New Jerseyís only medical-marijuana dispensary, patients
must circle one of six animated faces that stare out from a
of smiling, wincing, frowning, and sobbing cartoon faces is
being used to rank the degree of pain that patients experience
due to cancer, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, and several other
conditions the state deems treatable by cannabis.
patients return to the Compassionate Care Foundation
dispensary in Egg Harbor Township, N.J., for a refill, they
again are handed the Wong-Baker FACES Pain Rating Scale so
that the effect of the marijuana can be assessed.
results so far are "absolutely dramatic," said
Suzanne Miller, a researcher with a Ph.D. who sits on the
dispensaryís board of trustees. Miller is also a professor
and the director of behavioral medicine at Fox Chase Cancer
Center/Temple Health in Philadelphia. About 80 percent of the
145 CCF patients who completed the rankings at least twice
over the last two months have charted significant improvement,
being collected and analyzed, the data show that on average,
most patients are reporting their pain levels decreased by 30
to 50 percent, Miller said. "You usually see smaller
results, about 10 percent, or 20 percent," she said.
author of four books and a contributor to more than 100
academic articles, Miller will be the lead researcher on a
report she plans to submit to medical journals for publication
possibly this fall. The dispensary has 600 registered patients
and expects to have more data by that time.
gloomy, wet morning last week, several patients walked into
the dispensary to purchase cannabis, which is packaged in
plastic bottles and sold at $428 an ounce. Two patients who
agreed to be interviewed afterward said the marijuana they
bought had changed their lives. Three other patients who were
reached by phone said it markedly eased their pain.
was addicted to Vicodin," said Gary Carnevale Sr., a
multiple sclerosis patient from Bayville, N.J., shortly after
he picked up an ounce of "Red Cherry Berry"
marijuana from an employee behind a glass window at the
dispensary. Carnevale, 57, a former licensed practical nurse,
said increasing amounts of prescribed Vicodin, OxyContin,
Percocet, and other narcotics did not relieve the throbbing
pain shooting up his back and legs, and he then had to be
hospitalized for two weeks early last year.
was among the first patients to come to CCF, which opened six
months ago inside a cavernous warehouse just outside Atlantic
City. Marijuana plants are also grown at that location under
special purple, red, blue, and yellow lights.
took three or four hits. I laid in bed, and I could not
believe the pain slipping away," Carnevale said,
recalling the first day he smoked it using a vaporizer.
"My pain was like 10. Ö But when I smoke marijuana, I
swear itís zero," he said. While he previously spent
most of his days in bed, he said he now is able to function
and even took a recent vacation with his family, including his
Angotti, a nurse-practitioner from Robbinsville, N.J., began
sobbing when asked the effect the marijuana had on her
9-year-old son, Miles, who had suffered multiple, daily
seizures since he was 2. "Heís been seizure-free; heís
had none for the past 31 days and has had no side
effects," she said. "And heís better
past, Miles was forced to wear a mask to protect his face and
teeth from frequent falls caused by the violent seizures, she
said. And, for the same reason, he had to eat meals from a
tray while sitting on the floor. Angotti turned the marijuana
buds into a tincture, which she gives to Miles in tiny doses
three times a day, and he no longer needs his mask, she said.
"He eats dinner at the table now," she added.
Thomas, the dispensary CEO, said the frequent hugs that
grateful patients bestow on staff and the tears he has
witnessed in the waiting room convince him of marijuanaís
medical worth. "To us, this is medicine. To everyone
else, itís something else. Itís pot. Ö But this is not
Colorado," he said. His staff wear white medical jackets,
and only patients who have a doctorís approval may buy the
afflicted with seizures, multiple sclerosis, Crohnís
disease, irritable bowel syndrome, and glaucoma are reporting
the greatest benefit, Thomas said. One patient who had Crohnís
disease experienced a "total reversal" and was able
to return to work, he said.
there is a dearth of scientific studies, anecdotal evidence is
practically the only proof available at this time, Thomas
said. Marijuanaís status as a federally prohibited Schedule
I drug, ranking it more dangerous than opium, has blocked
studies on its medicinal value, he said.
the federal government still considers marijuana illegal, the
Obama administration recently announced it will not enforce
the ban in states that have legalized it for medical and for
recreational use except in egregious trafficking cases and
when it is being marketed to minors.
Jersey is one of 22 states that have legalized medical
marijuana, and many others are weighing it. Its strictly
regulated program calls for doctors to write
"recommendations" ó not prescriptions ó
authorizing patients to obtain cannabis. But they are not
required to provide dosing information, leaving patients to
use marijuana on a trial-and-error basis.
said he looks forward to having an analysis of the patient
surveys completed and having a more detailed questionnaire for
patients developed so that CCF can determine what doses and
strains are most helpful for its patients. "This is the
drug that needs to be studied," he said.
five patients initially told staff that they did not get
relief by taking the cannabis they had purchased, Thomas said.
But when the strain and dose were modified, he said, half of
those patients reported their pain had lessened. Marijuana
contains 60 chemicals, he said, and the various strains have
different ratios of the ingredients. CCF sells six strains and
is planning an expansion next month.
the dispensary waiting room, a 60-year-old Brigantine, N.J.,
woman who suffers from multiple sclerosis was busy gathering
up her one-quarter ounce of marijuana and her umbrella as she
prepared to head home. "I had pain every day in my feet
and occasionally in my face," she said, declining to be
named. "Itís debilitating, and when itís in my face
itís like lightning."
baking marijuana brownies with the cannabis, she said, her
pain improved 80 percent. "Itís a valid medicine,"
she said. "And it is time itís seen that way."