Freethought San Marcos: A column
by LAMAR W. HANKINS
Two years ago, when my mother was 88, her health began deteriorating rapidly. She was hospitalized twice before she came home for the last time under the care of hospice. One of her first, and lingering, symptoms was unexplained nausea, which was unabated for about two months. After hospice care began, the hospice nurse, working with advice and supervision from the hospice doctor, began trying to find some drug or combination of drugs to overcome Mother’s nausea. After experimenting with several drugs and combinations to no effect, the nurse finally hit on a successful combination: an anti-nausea drug combined with Marinol.
Marinol is a synthetic derivative of marijuana. It produces milder psychoactive effects than those experienced by marijuana users, but it lacks the wide range of the beneficial cannabinoids found in marijuana. The wide range of cannabinoids appears to have made marijuana useful in helping multiple sclerosis patients, and others suffering from glaucoma, pain, and other maladies. While government opposition has prevented the study of all of the 60 cannabinoids found in marijuana, there is evidence that some of them have major anticonvulsant, anti-inflammatory, and pain-killing properties.
Marinol takes about an hour to have full systemic effect on a patient, while smoked or vaporized cannabis usually has a faster effect. Marinol costs about $24 per dose, compared with perhap one dollar per dose of marijuana.
Fifteen states now have active medical marijuana programs: Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington. During the past two years, many medical marijuna developments have helped move marijuana from a hippy recreational drug to a potent weapon in the arsenal of drugs used against pain, discomfort, nausea, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, and other diseases and conditions.
Government policy has kept the full potential of marijuana in medical treatment from scientific study. Marijuana is listed as a Schedule I drug, a classification that means, by definition, that it has no medical uses, a status belied by the current use of Marinol and the more recent availability of medical marijuana in the fifteen states listed. In November 2009, the American Medical Association (AMA) called for change of marijuana’s status so that its usefulness as a medical treatment can be scientifically studied without the limitations now experienced by researchers because of its Schedule I classification..
To make its position clear, the AMA’s House of Delegates resolved that “[The] AMA urges that marijuana’s status as a federal Schedule I controlled substance be reviewed with the goal of facilitating the conduct of clinical research and development of cannabinoid-based medicines.”
Over a year ago, the American College of Physicians called for a reclassification of cannabis’ Schedule I status, following other recent calls for the immediate legalization of marijuana for medical purposes by several prominent health organizations, including the American Nurses Association and the American Public Health Association.
The AMA also adopted a report drafted by its Council on Science and Public Health: “Results of short term controlled trials indicate that smoked cannabis reduces neuropathic pain, improves appetite and caloric intake especially in patients with reduced muscle mass, and may relieve spasticity and pain in patients with multiple sclerosis.”
As reported in the October 2009 issue of the journal Neuropathology, researchers at the University of Georgia have concluded that current clinical studies show that cannabinoids are helpful in treating neuropathic pain, a debilitating form of chronic pain resulting primarily from nerve injury that usually does not respond favorably to either non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) or opiates.
Studies reported this past August in the British Journal of Cancer show that cannabinoids appear capable of causing prostate cell death and inhibiting tumor cell growth in animals. In that same month, the journal Cancer Prevention Research reported that a “population-based case-control study” showed that “moderate long-term use of marijuana is associated with a reduced risk of head and neck cancers.”
A recent review of cancer research published in the journal Cancer Letters by investigators at the University of Otago (New Zealand), Department of Pharmacology, reported that “[C]annabinoids have been shown to have anti-proliferative, anti-metastatic, anti-angiogenic and pro-apoptotic effects in various cancer types (lung, glioma, thyroid, lymphoma, skin, pancreas, uterus, breast, and prostate carcinoma) using both in vitro and in vivo models.” Similar conclusions were reached in 2008 by investigators at the University of Wisconsin.
Other scientific journals in 2008 and 2009 reported that marijuana compounds have palliative and curative effects on some cancers. As reported in the February issue of the journal Best Practice & Research: Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, investigators at the University of Salerno in Italy found that cannabinoids limit cancer cell proliferation and induce tumor-selective cell death. The journal Cancer Research reported on studies indicating that the administration of cannabinoids can halt the spread of a wide range of cancers, including brain cancer, prostate cancer, breast cancer, lung cancer, skin cancer, pancreatic cancer, and lymphoma.
Two other recent studies suggest that THC (the active ingredients in marijuana) can be useful in suppressing dependence on opiates (Journal of Neuropharmacology) and that intermittent cannabis users who were in drug treatment for opiod dependence were more likely to continue treatment than were non-cannabis users (American Journal on Addictions).
A study published last June in the Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology found that oral synthetic THC significantly improved symptoms of schizophrenia among patients in the study done at the Rockland Psychiatric Center in Orangeburg, New York, and the New York University School of Medicine.
Another study reported last spring, based on research conducted by a pharmaceutical company, showed that a cannabis-based spray could have long-term benefits for reducing spasticity in multiple sclerosis patients. A case study reported in the journal Headache, involving a 19-year old patient with a “cyclical pattern of cluster headaches,” found that marijuana was effective in his treatment: “Marijuana use at the onset of his headaches consistently brought complete relief within five minutes of inhalation for each attack.”
Anecdotal reports suggest that marijuana may be helpful in relieving the symptoms, if not the condition, known as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and research done in Israel suggests that marijuana may be helpful in the treatment of traumatic brain injury and “canceled out the symptoms of stress.”
While none of these studies and reports alone may be significant, they suggest the need for serious, widespread scientific exploration of the benefits of cannabinoids in treating a variety of illnesses, diseases, and conditions. The reason we have not had adequate research into the efficacy of cannabinoids to treat medical problems over the last 95 years has more to do with government policy and widespread misinformation than with the absence of interest in such research by scientists and healthcare professionals.
Government policy toward marijuana has been based on lies, distortions, and a massive disinformation campaign created first in 1914 by newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst, who was heavily invested in wood-pulp newsprint. As recently reported by Jim Hightower, Hearst “wanted to shut down competition from paper made from hemp–a species of cannabis that is a distant cousin to marijuana but produces no high. Hearst simply lumped hemp and marijuana together as the devil’s own product.” His newspapers carried articles about “reefer-crazed blacks raping white women and playing ‘voodoo satanic’ jazz music.” Forty years ago, I was still hearing such stories from people in authority.
In the 1930s marijuana was again demonized. The release of the film “Reefer Madness” in 1936 added a new level of disinformation. As explained by Hightower, the film “was originally produced by a church group to warn parents to keep their children in check, lest they smoke pot–a horror that, as the film showed, would drive kids to rape, manslaughter, insanity, and suicide.” In 1937, Congress passed a law “that effectively banned the production, sale, and consumption of marijuana.”
A poll published last month by Angus Reid Public Opinion found that a majority of adults in the US favor legalizing marijuana, a result echoed by separate national polls conducted in 2009 by Gallup, Zogby, ABC News, CBS News, Rasmussen Reports, and the California Field Poll, each of which found greater public support for marijuana legalization than ever before.
Rasmussen reported last September that 51% of American adults believe that alcohol is “more dangerous” than marijuana. While alcohol has some sedative value, there are no data to suggest it has any greater medical use.
There has been no better time to seriously explore the benefits of marijuana and its derivatives for curing or ameliorating medical conditions and diseases. A majority of the American public has overcome nearly 100 years of disinformation about the plant, and scientists have indicated hopeful directions for research into its efficacy. And perhaps we are closer to the day when police will no longer waste their time and taxpayer’s money arresting nearly 850,000 people a year on marijuana-related charges.Email | Print