Case for medical marijuana is weak at best

Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam touring the women's block of Selarang Halfway House.
Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam touring the women's block of Selarang Halfway House. PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

There may exist certain conditions which could justify the use of medical marijuana, but with the exception of some rare forms of epilepsy, there are other effective bona fide medicines with a far safer profile which can be and are used, fulfilling the first basic principle of drug prescription (Doctors don't back push to legalise drugs: Shanmugam, Jan 12).

Medical marijuana, prescribed even under the most stringent guidelines, carries with it a whole host of side effects and complications, including addiction, psychosis and even drug-induced heart attacks. When smoked, marijuana contains the same carcinogens contained in cigarettes that cause lung cancer and respiratory problems.

The legalisation of medical marijuana in the United States has not brought about better treatment outcomes for the majority of ailments that marijuana is theorised to be efficacious for, even as prescribed dosages jump higher and higher.

Meanwhile marijuana's questionable use has exploded to the point where in certain US cities, medical marijuana clinics outnumber Starbucks outlets.

This is not a situation that Singapore wants to be in, even as Malaysia and Thailand consider the use of medical marijuana.

The pharmaceutical industry has the resources to influence doctors' prescriptive habits through research done more for its own vested self-interest than patients' good, and our Law Minister is sensibly perceptive of this.

While the Government and the medical fraternity must always keep an open mind on research, looking for competitive ways to alleviate patient suffering, even to the extent of making narcotics or psychotropics legal where necessary, the case for medical marijuana is weak at best and detrimental to the whole of society at worst.

Yik Keng Yeong (Dr)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 23, 2019, with the headline 'Case for medical marijuana is weak at best'. Print Edition | Subscribe