Weeding Out the Lies

Dr. Gupta has changed his tune on medical weed (Animal New York)

Dr. Gupta has changed his tune on medical weed (Animal New York)

The other day as I was cruising through cyberspace, I came across an article written by Dr. Sanjay Gupta earlier this month that explained why his opinion of medicinal marijuana changed so dramatically in the last several years. For those of you unfamiliar with Gupta, he is the Chief Medical Correspondent for CNN and has always been against the idea of pot being used as treatment for medical conditions.

Recently, though, Gupta is singing a different tune, and this one supports medical marijuana wholeheartedly. In fact, the good doctor is currently working on a documentary called “Weed” that further explains his 180-degree turn on this controversial topic. And I, for one, can’t wait to see it.

For decades, I have heard the same thing most of you have likely heard: marijuana is a terrible drug that provides no real benefit and instead serves as a gateway to other, harder drugs. Since 1970—and at the bequest of the Assistant Secretary of Health at the time, Dr. Roger Egeberg—marijuana has been classified as a schedule I substance. Here’s how these types of drugs are described by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA):

“Schedule I drugs, substances or chemicals are defined as drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse. Schedule I drugs are the most dangerous drugs of all the drug schedules with potentially severe psychological or physical dependence.”

Believe it or not, but the DEA ranks cannabis along with heroin, LSD, peyote and ecstasy! It’s even considered to be more dangerous than cocaine, simply because coke has been used for medicinal reasons (mostly as an anesthetic)!

Clearly, there is something wrong with this picture. Thanks to Dr. Gupta, though, I now feel as if I know much more about the conspiracy to demonize marijuana in America. Consider the man who first suggested it be classified as schedule I drug, Dr. Egeberg.

In his letter recommending the status change for weed—the same letter that resulted in this status remaining for 45 years—Dr. Egeberg stated his reasoning as follows—I underlined the most pertinent words or phrases:

“Since there is still a considerable void in our knowledge of the plant and effects of the active drug contained in it, our recommendation is that marijuana be retained within schedule 1 at least until the completion of certain studies now underway to resolve the issue.”

The root... er, weed... of all evil (Tulsa World)

The root… er, weed… of all evil (Tulsa World)

In other words, he wasn’t recommending that marijuana remain a schedule I substance. He just thought more research needed to be conducted before a truly informed decision could be made.

Unfortunately, this never happened because none of the “studies now underway” were ever completed. As disturbing as this half-ass approach was, the truth of the matter is that there existed a plethora of information on marijuana at the time, some of it dating back several decades. For instance, former New York mayor Fiorello LaGuardia commissioned a study in 1944 that found no evidence of marijuana being addictive or leading to harder drug use. More recent studies have even estimated marijuana’s dependence rate at roughly 9-10% (meaning this percentage of people who use the drug actually become dependent on it, at least in terms of psychological dependence). Compare this to dependence rates for cocaine (20%)—a schedule II drug, by the way—heroin (25%) and tobacco (30%) and it should be obvious that marijuana simply isn’t being treated fairly… and hasn’t been treated fairly for almost half a century.

But there’s more.

Consider for a moment the schedule I classification that claims marijuana has no inherent medical use. Gupta contradicted this and referred to the case of Charlotte Figi, a child in Colorado who started having unexplained seizures just after she was born. Every week, Charlotte would have roughly 300 seizures and despite being on numerous medications, nothing seemed to help. Out of desperation, her physicians recommended the use of cannabis to see what effect it might have on calming Charlotte’s brain and, consequently, reducing the rate of her seizures. Ironically enough—and after only a short time—the cannabis helped. Now Charlotte experiences only 2-3 seizures each month and no longer suffers from the cognitive impairment her more frequent seizures caused. By most respects, she is a happy and healthy child who can now enjoy a life that once seemed grim and dismal.

Charlotte Figi needs cannabis to control her seizures (Nurses Labs)

Charlotte Figi needs cannabis to control her seizures (Nurses Labs)

Am I to believe these kinds of benefits should be ignored simply because someone in the 1970s suggested marijuana be classified as illegal and dangerous? Is it possible the large tobacco companies helped fuel the fear that pushed consumers away from marijuana and back to their leafy product instead?

I’m likely getting a little ahead of myself. And it should be obvious that this subject gets me fired up—not because I think we should all become potheads, but because there are people suffering who could be helped once we get our collective heads out of our asses.

During his research, Gupta also examined the medical literature regarding marijuana and went back as far as the 19th century. What he found was astonishing and convinced me even more that we are missing an opportunity here. Between 1840 and 1930, the majority of marijuana-related papers and journal articles focused on the many benefits of this plant. Ever since, however, the majority of the research has focused instead on marijuana’s dangers and adverse effects—a quick search of the U.S. National Library of Medicine brought up more than 20,000 results for Gupta, most of which examined the drug’s harmful qualities. This means that of all the American studies into marijuana, only 6% examine its positive traits.

Does this really paint a clear picture of the drug? I think not.

Like Gupta, I agree that more research should be done on marijuana and a more informed decision should be made, especially with regard to its medicinal qualities. Researchers all over the world have been studying it for years and continue to do so. Some are even making serious progress. For example, scientists in Israel and Spain are trying to determine if cannabis could be used to fight cancer, while others are looking into it as a potential treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder, a growing problem among our military personnel.

The problem is that to study marijuana in the United States, you have to either break the law—marijuana is illegal, after all—or go through the proper government channels, which can be equally challenging. You also have to get approval and, sadly, this process is skewed as well. Approval for an anti-cancer drug study may need the approval of the National Cancer Institute, for instance, but the same is not true for marijuana. Instead of passing through some kind of legitimate medical board or organization, marijuana studies must seek the approval of the National Institute on Drug Abuse—the very organization whose mission it is to help demonize weed!

A medical marijuana card for California (Contra Costa Health)

A medical marijuana card for California (Contra Costa Health)

Again, there is something seriously wrong with this picture.

The good news is that as of this moment, residents of 20 states—and the District of Columbia—have voted to approve medical marijuana use, and a number of additional states will vote on it soon. Washington State even made recreational marijuana use legal and it seems as if Colorado could be next in line. In other words—and undoubtedly to the delight of Dr. Gupta—the times they are a changing.

They just need to change much, much faster… and without all the government paranoia, fear-mongering and—most of all—bullshit. Only then can we help the people who truly need it. And only then can we finally end their suffering.

Posted on August 22, 2013, in Perspectives and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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