Alex Chang Wants Medical Marijuana, The Department of Health May Not Let Him Have It

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Alex Chang, trailblazer
Meet Alex Chang. He's the 20-year-old student who last July filed a petition with the state Department of Health to get social phobia, bipolar disorder and severe depression added to the list of approved debilitating conditions under Washington's medical marijuana law.

At last night's public hearing in SeaTac, Chang, who reports to suffer from depression and social anxiety disorder, testified before a mixed panel of representatives from the state Osteopathic Board and Medical Quality Commission on why he thinks marijuana could help.

"I'm here because I don't believe that cannabis gets as much credit as it deserves in helping people with mental health issues," said Chang.

Actually, it gets no credit, not from the scientific community anyway. And therein lies the problem.

Dr. Andrew Saxon is a professor of psychiatry at the University of Washington and director of the Addictions Treatment Center at the Puget Sound VA Hospital. Saxon, who testified by phone, said that there's not yet been a credible research study on whether marijuana can help alleviate symptoms from social anxiety and bipolar disorder, hence just one of the reasons why he doesn't support legalizing medical marijuana for treatment of mental health patients.

The problem for researchers lies in the difficulty they find in securing funding for studies involving marijuana, said Saxon. And in lieu of one, the respective members of the deciding boards seem forced into relying on gut instinct and anecdotal evidence.

So for those on the other side, convincing a majority of the doctors (also read: scientists) on the respective boards that medical marijuana should be made available to people suffering from bipolar disorder and the like will continue to be an uphill battle.

Of course, the ruling bodies in both New Mexico and California have approved marijuana use for treatment of bipolar and social anxiety patients, a fact unsurprisingly pointed out by Chang and others in attendance. So, they do have that sliver of hope.

The Boards' next meeting is scheduled for early January, with the final decision coming late in the month.

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