While there's no scientific proof medical marijuana works for a wide range of symptoms or illnesses, a beauty queen from Maryland says she has the proof she needs.
“It really is the miracle drug,” Syanne Centeno said.
She turned her pain into a platform to promote medical marijuana, saying it can help with things like cancer, seizures, headaches and nausea.
As Centeno was crowned Miss Maryland World in 2015, she suffered chronic aches, anxiety and fatigue.
“I have osteoporosis, which is a bone disease commonly seen in post-menopausal women,” she said. “I have a seizure disorder, I have a pituitary tumor and I also have a lesion on my temporal lobe.”
At one point, Centeno said, she was taking 10 pills a day with little relief, so she turned to medicinal oils.
“I felt like I had to try it,” she said. “All these pills weren't working. I heard great things. I did a lot of research.”
Board-certified anaesthesiologist and pain medicine doctor Anand Dugar is a believer, too. He left his job in traditional medicine to open Green Health Docs with six clinics across Maryland to help people get access to medical marijuana.
“I felt like I was part of the problem with prescribing opiates to patients and realizing that this wasn't really benefiting them the way we hoped,” he said. “You'd see patients get addicted, become drug-seeking and kind of their whole life revolved around getting pills.”
Maryland has 71 dispensaries and D.C. has five. Marijuana is not legal in Virginia, but dispensaries selling cannabidiol (CBD) oils are set to open later this year.
Medical marijuana is legal in 33 states, but as the buisness grows across the country, the science has been slow to catch up to it.
“There's a lot of unanswered questions, which hopefully with time and research we'll be able to figure out, but nonetheless, I think potentially it’s big and it’s there,” GW Center for Integrative Medicine Medical Director Dr. Mikhail Kogan said.
Last year, the Food and Drug Administration approved the first and only drug derived from marijuana to treat two rare forms of epilepsy and reduce the frequency of seizures.
“There’s a lot of medications that are used in what's called off-label, meaning they're approved for a certain indication, but we use them for lots of other things because we've seen benefit,” Dugar said.
Studies may be limited, but for Centeno and others, it's not hype. It's the first step toward healing.
“I've experienced first-hand what the benefits are, so now I feel inclined to advocate for it and be a voice for people who are too scared to come forward and share their experience,” Centeno said.
Recent research shows deaths from opioid overdoses fell by 25 percent in states that legalized medical marijuana.