TEXAS VIEW: State’s expansion of program wise extension of compassion

THE POINT: Expanding the Compassionate Use Program opens the door to more patients.

Way back in the spring when the Texas Legislature still had a quorum, one of the items addressed an ultimately approved was a modest expansion of the state’s Compassionate Use Program.

For the most part, conversations along these lines become worries about the slippery slopes of legalizing or decriminalizing the use of marijuana. There are valid points to be made and considered on each side of that debate. This is something else, though, and there is no disputing the positive impacts of regulated marijuana use in the very narrow medically related areas currently allowed under state law.

On Sept. 1, those eligible under the Texas Compassionate Use Program will expand to include people with post-traumatic stress disorder and cancer of all stages. House Bill 1535 paved the way for this, allowing the use of what is termed “low-THC cannabis.”

In addition to increasing the number of people eligible to participate, the law doubles the percent of THC allowed in products to 1%, which is less than the 5% included in the original version of the bill. It marks the second straight session during which lawmakers have expanded the program. In 2019, it grew to include those suffering from Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.

This is a careful and thoughtful expansion of a program intended to provide people with one more option. Texas is one of three dozen states that allow the use of medical marijuana, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The inclusion of PTSD will provide a path for veterans who experience the condition because of their military service. Statistics suggest the PTSD rate among veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan is approximately 13.5%. Some studies put the figure much higher.

Cancer patients, meanwhile, can benefit from medical marijuana as it eases various impacts of chemotherapy. According to experts, Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is what causes the psychological effects of marijuana.

Marijuana “decreases the hyperarousal and hypervigilance of veterans,” Dr. Muhammad Assad, a psychiatry fellow at the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, said in an interview with the Texas Tribune. “Because they’re coming from a traumatic situation, they get very vigilant, they get very aroused, they’re always ready for challenges. So the medical marijuana calms them down. It also decreases nightmares.”

According to the Tribune, the cannabis program served fewer than 6,000 people as of May. The expansion that will take effect in a few weeks is expected to include not only veterans but also an estimated 114,000 people across the state with cancer, per numbers provided by the Texas Department of State Health Services.

Expanding the program should also help keep Texans from traveling to other states with broader medical marijuana programs. “Because (the program) was so narrow for so long, many patients were forced to go to the neighboring states around Texas that have robust medical programs to gain access to the plant,” Jax Finkel, executive director of the Texas chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, told the Tribune.

The Compassionate Use Program is a controlled medical option available only to those who meet specific criteria. This latest expansion is a good idea that opens the program’s door to more patients likely to reap the program’s benefits

Abilene Reporter-News