Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Drug Commercials Scare Me

If you watch any TV at all, you’ve undoubtedly seen one or more commercials for drugs, the medicinal kind that is. If you’re like me, you probably either ignore these commercials or start flipping channels. Well, the other night I actually watched one from beginning to end. And I paid attention. If you’ve done the same yourself, you know that a typical pharmaceutical company’s drug commercial spends about 5-10 percent of its time telling you what the drug is good for and the rest telling you about its contraindications (i.e., when you shouldn’t take it) and/or its side effects.

A great example is a commercial I saw the other night for Humira. It can be used to treat certain types of arthritis, Crohn’s disease, and psoriasis. An interesting combination, and a very short list, of uses. But what about the contraindications? Don’t take Humira if you have any kind of infection, including tuberculosis or hepatitis, or are around anyone with such infections, or even if you tend to get a lot of infections. You should also tell your doctor if you have any numbness or tingling, or have a disease that affects your nervous system such as multiple sclerosis or Guillian-Barré syndrome, have heart failure or other heart conditions, are scheduled for major surgery, are pregnant, become pregnant, plan to become pregnant or are breastfeeding. You should also be careful if you’ve recently received any vaccines or are planning to get a vaccination.

OK, so let’s say you are infection free, don’t have any of the listed conditions, and are not with child. What can you expect in the way of undesirable side effects? Let’s start with serious infections, including tuberculosis, and infections caused by viruses, fungi, and bacteria. You might also increase your risk for getting certain types of cancer such as lymphoma or skin cancer. (Don’t worry though, the kind of skin cancer caused by Humira is not life threatening if treated, or so they say.) Then there are the possible allergic reactions, which may cause rashes, swelling, and trouble breathing. From there we move on to the nervous system problems that may include numbness or tingling, problems with your vision, weakness in your arms or legs, and dizziness. And the blood problems with symptoms that include a fever that does not go away, bruising or bleeding very easily, or looking very pale. And let’s not forget heart failure and immune reactions, including a lupus-like syndrome. Symptoms you might expect include chest discomfort or pain that does not go away, shortness of breath, joint pain, or a rash on your cheeks or arms that gets worse in the sun.

So I think you can see what I’m talking about regarding the amount of time spent extolling the virtues of a drug versus the grave warnings about its dangers. Makes me wonder why anybody would willingly, or knowingly, take such a drug. As a contrast, I’d like to see a commercial for medicinal marijuana.

First of all, the effects of medical marijuana and the conditions it can be used to treat: the control of appetite and energy metabolism (useful in the treatment of cancer and AIDS patients, as well as anorexia), the relief of pain and inflammation (useful in the treatment of a wide variety of conditions), protection from neurotoxicity and neurotrauma (useful in the treatment of traumatic brain and spinal cord injury, stroke, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, and Alzheimer’s disease, to name a few), control of mental disorders (such as schizophrenia, anxiety, and depression), regulation of sleep (useful in the treatment of insomnia), the regulation of addictive disorders (such as the alcohol, cocaine, or opiate addiction), cardiovascular and respiratory effects (useful in the treatment of hypertension, atherosclerosis, and asthma), eye disorders such as glaucoma and retinopathy, and finally as an agent that can directly inhibit cancer growth. And this is only a partial list.

So we’ve already got a pretty long commercial. What about the dangers of cannabis and its side effects? Well, there is one possible side effect (singular): You may experience a sudden increase in appetite or a craving for a particular food (which is only a side effect if it is not being used as an appetite stimulant). If this condition persists for more than 4 minutes, have a snack, relax, maybe listen to some music. I’d suggest some Hendrix, The Doors, or maybe some Bob Marley. But don’t worry, you’re not going to find out 6 months or a year down the line that cannabis was suddenly pulled off the market because of fatalities or serious health problems caused by its use. Rest assured that cannabis has been in use therapeutically since the dawn of time, and in the approximately 20,000 – 30,000 years of its use no one has ever died from a cannabis overdose. How many other “medicines” can make that claim?

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