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January 4th, 2010
Freethought San Marcos: Medical marijuana moves toward the mainstream

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.

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9 thoughts on “Freethought San Marcos: Medical marijuana moves toward the mainstream

  1. If you have the power to change the laws and do nothing, you are guilty of a crime against humanity.

    This herb has been around and studied for thousands of years. Why do all these articles make it sound like this is some new discovery?

    The same junk scientists as the ones in climategate are dictating drug policy.

    The laws making marijuana illegal are causing the potency to increase to make it easier to smuggle. If it is legalized it won’t have to be smuggled and it won’t need to be dangerously potent.

    If you want to be a medicine man, here is a song at http://osdd.com

    Medicine Man

    I just want to grow my medicine
    Won’t you let me be what I am
    I don’t know what’s wrong with that.
    I just want to be a medicine man.

    It will keep getting stronger.
    Easy to smuggle a little lasts longer.
    Legalize to stop the trend.
    I just want to be a medicine man.

    Thousands of years gone by.
    Junk science turned it to crime.
    Prohibition never works.

    I just want to grow my medicine
    Won’t you let me be what I am
    I don’t know, what’s wrong with that.
    I just want to be a medicine man.

    Thousands of years gone by.
    Junk science turned it to crime.
    Government filled with jerks.
    Prohibition never works.

    Medicine, medicine, …, medicine man.

  2. OMG Lamar. Weren’t you afraid your mother would become drug dependent or worse, a dope fiend wandering the neighborhood looking for her next “fix” of dope?

    Seriously, it took me a number of years after my military experience (bad drug problems to deal with in Vietnam) to come around to your point of view on legalizing marijuana. We really need to get over our paranoia of this substance and look for rational solutions. So far, we are not doing well in the rational area. In some parts of California marijuana has, for all intents and purposes, been legalized under the medical marijuana fraud. We still feel the need to hide behind the medical issue. Growing or selling marijuana in CA. is still very much illegal and the cops are still pursuing the issue. Where does the government of CA think the stuff comes from for “medical use.” Perhaps the marijuana ferry comes every day in a big truck and delivers the inventory to the medical marijuana shops.

    We have so deluded ourselves about the whole war on drugs issue that it seems to be impossible for us to address the issue. The war on drugs has corrupted our police, courts and the legislative branch. The stink of corruption is worse than anything the country faced during our experiment with prohibition.

    My personal problem with legalization is how do we get there from here? I have never heard a coherent proposal (with details) from the pro marijuana folks on how we are going to handle legalization. The American public would be more likely to support a proposal that has some structure. Things like “medical marijuana” just insult the voters. Should we just open the whole thing wide open and allow push carts marijuana sales on the street corner? Maybe we should treat marijuana like distilled spirits and utilize liquor stores to control the access according to strict rules. No I don’t have a conflict here, I sold them all to Twins. Do we leave enforcement to the local police or make it a priority for a new state agency like the Alcoholic Beverage Commission? How do the merchants (regulated or unregulated) get the merchandise to sell? There has to be legitimate growers and legitimate distribution or no reasonably honest business person would touch the stuff. Until we really address these kind of issues, I think legalization is going to be a long way off.

    As much as I hate to use this phrase, this is one of the few areas where it is really useful. How about the slippery slop argument. If we legalize marijuana, were ( if anywhere) do we go next. Ecstasy (probably pretty harmless), meth (maybe not harmless), crack (maybe it would not be so harmful if legal), heroin? It is easy to dismiss this argument and just say we won’t go beyond marijuana but I don’t think that is a reasonable answer. We need to think these things through because I think the American public is ready for legalization if somebody just proposes something that will likely work without creating a whole new set of problems.

    Charles Sims

  3. Charles,

    The slippery slope is the systematic destruction of our liberty.

    As to what to do about it I say throw the bums out of office. Look at the Chicago politician mobsters who would rather free someone who knocked the teeth out of an innocent woman than to free a marijuana smoker.

    Abraham Lincoln said it best:

    “Prohibition will work great injury to the cause of temperance. It is a species of intemperance within itself, for it goes beyond the bounds of reason in that it attempts to control a man’s appetite by legislation, and makes a crime out of things that are not crimes. A Prohibition law strikes a blow at the very principles upon which our government was founded.”

    Abraham Lincoln (1809-65), U.S. President.
    Speech, 18 Dec. 1840, to Illinois House of Representatives

  4. I agree with you all. The drug war was hopeless years ago and is costing us billions. DEA does what it can, but it can’t. The drug trade and our efforts to stop it are causing the ruin of countries and breeding corruption everywhere. I so hope that our electeds will somehow find the courage to voice the stupidity of continuing this “war”.

  5. Valid medicinal value, it’s a victimless crime, the War on Drugs WAY too costly, too many arrests for simple possession, tax it and use the money to pay for health insurance and to reduce the deficit…Need I say more?

    Woodstock Universe supports legalization of Marijuana.

    We will giveaway a Woodstock Universe Prize Package to the best member blog on “Why we should legalize marijuana?”

    Prize package includes Woodstock Universe T-shirt and magnet, WDST decal, Radio Woodstock Live in Woodstock CD and Woodstock 3 days of peace and music Director’s Cut DVD.

    Join Woodstock Universe to blog or just vote in our poll.

    Add your vote in our poll about legalization at:
    WoodstockUniverse.com

    New poll started 11/25…currently 95%…for 5% against.

    We operate RADIO WOODSTOCK 69 which features only music from the original Woodstock era (1967-1971) and RADIO WOODSTOCK with great live music from the original Woodstock era to today’s artists who reflect the spirit of Woodstock. We also operate Woodstock TV which features concert and festival videos.

    Peace, love, music, one world,
    RFWoodstock

  6. Were the Lady Bobcats smoking something during their lose to Baylor? I guess that could explain the 18 points they managed to get in two halves.

  7. One need not travel to China to find indigenous cultures lacking human rights. America leads the world in percentile behind bars, thanks to ongoing persecution of hippies, radicals, and non-whites under prosecution of the war on drugs. If we’re all about spreading liberty abroad, then why mix the message at home? Peace on the home front would enhance global credibility.

    The drug czar’s Rx for prison fodder costs dearly, as lives are flushed down expensive tubes. My shaman’s second opinion is that psychoactive plants are God’s gift. Behold, it’s all good. When Eve ate the apple, she knew a good apple, and an evil prohibition. Canadian Marc Emery is being extradited to prison for selling seeds that American farmers use to reduce U. S. demand for Mexican pot.

    The CSA (Controlled Substances Act of 1970) reincarnates Al Capone, endangers homeland security, and throws good money after bad. Administration fiscal policy burns tax dollars to root out the number-one cash crop in the land, instead of taxing sales. Society rejected the plague of prohibition, but it mutated. Apparently, SWAT teams don’t need no stinking amendment.

    Nixon passed the CSA on the false assurance that the Schafer Commission would later justify criminalizing his enemies. No amendments can assure due process under an anti-science law without due process itself. Psychology hailed the breakthrough potential of LSD, until the CSA shut down research, and pronounced that marijuana has no medical use, period. Drug juries exclude bleeding hearts.

    The RFRA (Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993) allows Native American Church members to eat peyote, which functions like LSD. Americans shouldn’t need a specific church membership or an act of Congress to obtain their birthright freedom of religion. God’s children’s free exercise of religious liberty may include entheogen sacraments to mediate communion with their maker.

    Freedom of speech presupposes freedom of thought. The Constitution doesn’t enumerate any governmental power to embargo diverse states of mind. How and when did government usurp this power to coerce conformity? The Mayflower sailed to escape coerced conformity. Legislators who would limit cognitive liberty lack jurisdiction.

    Common-law allows that adults are the legal owners of their own bodies. The Founding Fathers undersigned that the right to the pursuit of happiness is inalienable. Socrates said to know your self. Mortal lawmakers should not presume to thwart the intelligent design that molecular keys unlock spiritual doors. Persons who appreciate their own free choice of path in life should tolerate seekers’ self-exploration.

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