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An idea whose time has come


When the cure is killing you, what's wrong with using a drug that actually helps you feel better - and maybe stay alive?






“I am not going to use drugs, Harold.” The speaker, Doris, was a frail, stick-person chemo patient. She pronounced the word drugs the way you would say stink. Harold had asked me if I could suggest anything to help with the debilitating nausea. I had recommended weed.

It was 1990, and no one was talking about medical marijuana yet. The dated scare tactics of Reefer Madness still made sense to some people. A good girl until she lights a reefer and Women cry for it, men die for it screamed from the movie posters.

By then, it had been a few years since I began counseling terminal and cancer patients to use marijuana. “There’s nothing better” is what I said when they asked about it. This was Washington State. Had I lived in Texas then, my response might have been more guarded. 

Nothing to lose

It was a cold winter day in the mid-1990s when I asked the sister of a good patient how her brother was doing. Mildred, a nurse, had taken a leave from the University Hospital in Seattle to help care for her brother. Her answer was disturbing.

“David has become mean, Jim. All he does is watch CNN and mistreat his wife and me. I can handle David, but she’s going under.” 

I visited David the next week. He faked it well. There was no indication of his abusive side. He couldn’t fake his weight, however. The man was a bag of bones. My recommendation? “Have your nephew in Seattle get you some pot.”

The legal drugs could kill you

Last July, an old friend, my college roommate, told me some horrific news: His 19-year-old grandson had a rare and aggressive cancer. His oncologists asked him if he would be willing to undergo a no-holds-barred program of chemotherapy and radiation. It would be brutal. The boy is young and strong. He’s in love. He wants to live. He said, “Bring it on.”

My friend had little good news to share after that. The episodes of in-patient chemo left his grandson paralyzed with nausea and diarrhea. My friend is a pharmacist who became a hospital administrator a long time ago. “I didn’t know how bad this could get, Gaks. He’s lost a lot of weight.”

You know what I said.

One of the boy’s friends brought him a stash within a couple days. Last week, his weight was back to normal. His oncologists were amazed - and they are planning to devise a marijuana protocol for all their patients. Medical marijuana becomes legal in their state January 1, 2014.

It is clear to me that nobody is going to get this genie back into the bottle.

Don’t screw the goose

I don’t care how much dirty money the illicit drug industry pays lobbyists to keep marijuana illegal. It will become legal, sooner rather than later, and the dope-dealing industry will be out of business. 

Once we smarten up, finally, packets of five or ten commercially rolled joints with names like MendocinoLuckies and British Columbia Bud will be taxed. It’s about time.

It doesn’t matter who makes them - tobacco companies, the liquor industry, the drug companies, or an entirely new industry. What matters to us is: Who is going to sell Leslie County Kentucky Smooths? Are we going to screw the goose on this one, as we have so many times before?

Pharmacies should sell marijuana in all forms. Rolled, loose, snuff, brownies. It should be a Behind the Counter item, treated like a drug.

If it were your brother ...

You think I’m dreaming in the country? Then think about this.

Doris got in touch. She wanted to thank me. Life was okay now, she said.

David had died soon after my visit. His sister said he spent his last weeks watching Comedy Central and eating grilled cheese sandwiches washed down with double vanilla malted milkshakes. When he said goodbye, he kissed his wife and told her that he loved her.

She didn’t care that he was loaded.

Jim Plagakislives in Sarasota, Fla. You can e-mail him atjpgakis@hotmail.comand check out his website at jimplagakis.com.

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