TEXARKANA, Ark. — As Dr. Joseph Parker sees it, he has little choice except to prescribe medical marijuana — even though doing so may raise some eyebrows in Texarkana.
“I was reluctant initially to agree to prescribe it, because you know any time there’s a change in policy, whichever doctors agree to consider it first, people who disagree with that decision are going to look at harassing or attacking them. You put yourself out for a little scrutiny, and that wasn’t what I was looking to do,” Parker told the Texarkana Gazette.
Parker said doctors have to look at the safest medication possible to relieve a patient’s pain.
“I had patients who were suffering terribly on medications that could be very harmful to them under the wrong circumstances, or even if they use it just like it’s prescribed, sometimes things don’t go well,” he said.
Parker is Texarkana’s only physician to go public with the decision to authorize patients’ medical marijuana use. Arkansas residents voted last November to legalize the drug for treatment of certain medical conditions.
Despite the stereotype of a marijuana doctor as a thinly veiled drug dealer, Parker will not be handing out prescriptions to anyone who asks. His criteria are clear and stricter than state regulations. To get a prescription from him, a medical cannabis patient must be diagnosed with a qualifying condition by a different physician and willing to reduce use of a more dangerous drug.
Anyone coming to him expecting a bogus diagnosis and rubber-stamp prescription will be disappointed, he said.
“I’m not going to have someone come in with no prior diagnosis, say they have anxiety and that they need this medication,” he said. “I want to make sure it is available to those it helps.”
Patients suffering from a variety of ailments — from appetite loss caused by chemotherapy to post-traumatic stress disorder to chronic pain brought on by nerve damage and more — could benefit from using marijuana, Parker said. And in doing so, they avoid the risks involved with many other drugs, especially the addictive opiate painkillers that have caused a nationwide epidemic of overdoses in recent years.
“The medications we currently have to treat pain are not good medicines. We don’t have anything that is not addicting. We don’t have anything that continues to work well at all,” he said.
By contrast, cannabis might be habit-forming for some people, but it is not addictive and has never killed anyone.
“We prescribe stuff all the time that we know has a high addiction risk, if the patient has a condition that warrants treatment with that to relieve their suffering. But a certain percentage of them are going to go on to have a severe addiction to those substances.
“Whereas marijuana, you may want it, you may actually crave it at some point, but you’ll never die without it. If you get hooked on methadone and you stop it abruptly, you can die,” Parker said.
Cannabis can treat anxiety more safely than the class of tranquilizers called benzodiazepenes, including the popular drug Xanax, Parker said.
Smoking anything is bad for the lungs, so Parker plans to recommend edible preparations of marijuana, oils containing its active ingredients, and topical formulations that can be rubbed in through the skin.
“Most of these patients are not seeking a high. They just don’t want to hurt. They just don’t want to suffer,” he said.