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The state should let people use MMJ to treat depression

If you've ever been depressed or have lived with someone who is depressed, you know it sucks—and not just a little bit.

Depression really, really sucks a lot in ways that make people lose their jobs and wish they were dead. It seeps out from the hearts and souls of sufferers to affect everyone around them, putting cracks in otherwise sound relationships. At times, being depressed is like being at the bottom of the pool, sucked down against the drain on your back, watching the world go by up there in the air. But down at the bottom of the pool, you can't breathe. You want to swim up to the surface, to gulp in huge gasps of atmosphere, and feel alive and vibrant.

But you can't ... without medication.

On May 25, the state took comments at a Phoenix hearing on the addition of marijuana as a medication option for depressed Arizonans. Several state residents were at the hearing to offer testimonials to the Department of Health Services, which will decide in the coming weeks whether MMJ makes the cut.

Michael Flint told DHS representatives to add it to the list. Flint was first diagnosed with depression in 1996 and has been on antidepressants since. He takes a chemical brew of two antidepressants and sleeping pills, which he needs because the antidepressants keep him up at night. It's a Catch-22: If he doesn't take the sleeping pills, he is more depressed from a lack of sleep. If he takes them, he feels run down the next day from the drugs. The side effects suck, and the meds aren't effective.

"The available options don't work, and marijuana does work. It works immediately. It's nontoxic. You can't overdose on it," Flint told DHS representatives at the hearing. "This is what I need to do for my own health, and I'd appreciate your consideration of that. Thank you."

Another woman at the hearing, who gave her name only as Tammy, tried numerous antidepressants during her 23 years in the Air Force, including many frequent fruitless attempts at self-medication with alcohol. She stayed depressed. Two years ago, she retired. Then, last year, she got an MMJ card for other issues. Guess what? She isn't depressed when she smokes. She works out. She meditates. She rides her bike 100-ish miles a week. She rides horses. She's active.

"I'm proof that cannabis works," she said.

Kent Eller, the chief medical officer for Phoenix's Southwest Network, also spoke. Southwest is a provider network that cares for 7,000 mentally ill patients. Eller's exposure to the effectiveness of MMJ came in the 1990s, when he worked at cancer- and HIV-care centers that allowed patients to smoke, because it was the compassionate thing to do. But depression is a different story.

"I am not at all for marijuana for the treatment of depression," he said.

Eller doesn't deny that MMJ eliminates symptoms, but says depression is a deeper issue that requires more-sophisticated treatment. He fears patients would drop off the medical radar if they get into the MMJ system, where patients self-medicate, often with no doctor supervision. That lack of medical involvement could let illnesses that look like depression go undiagnosed and untreated.

"So I would suggest that we not add marijuana for the treatment of depression," he said.

Hmmmm. If people have illnesses other than depression, they will go to doctors, because the MMJ won't help. If marijuana does help depression, who needs doctors? And the DHS isn't making any decisions about how people treat depression. Adding depression to the list would only make it an available option. The decision, as with all treatment decisions, should be made between doctors and patients, not wholesale by banning an apparently effective treatment.

Add depression, says Mr. Smith. As Dr. Eller said about allowing cancer and HIV patients to use medical marijuana, it's the compassionate thing to do.

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