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Jan. 22 2010 - 4:18 pm | 1,541 views | 0 recommendations | 23 comments

Is marijuana a medicine?

Of course it is, to answer this rhetorical question posed by a January 18 headline in the Wall Street Journal. New Jersey is the most recent to recognize that fact, becoming the 14th state to legalize use of marijuana for medicinal purposes. The New Jersey law, signed this week by outgoing Governor Jon Corzine, limits use to patients with specific illnesses such as cancer, HIV/AIDS, multiple sclerosis and ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) and specifically forbids grow-it-yourself projects.

What’s needed now are serious studies of how good a medicine it really is, and these aren’t happening very fast. As outlined in a New York Times article this week, getting permission to study the weed is no easy task.

Despite the Obama administration’s tacit support of more liberal state medical marijuana laws, the federal government still discourages research into the medicinal uses of smoked marijuana. That may be one reason that — even though some patients swear by it — there is no good scientific evidence that legalizing marijuana’s use provides any benefits over current therapies.

Lyle E. Craker, a professor of plant sciences at the University of Massachusetts, has been trying to get permission from federal authorities for nearly nine years to grow a supply of the plant that he could study and provide to researchers for clinical trials.

But the Drug Enforcement Administration — more concerned about abuse than potential benefits — has refused, even after the agency’s own administrative law judge ruled in 2007 that Dr. Craker’s application should be approved, and even after Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. in March ended the Bush administration’s policy of raiding dispensers of medical marijuana that comply with state laws.

“All I want to be able to do is grow it so that it can be tested,” Dr. Craker said in comments echoed by other researchers.

Marijuana is the only major drug for which the federal government controls the only legal research supply and for which the government requires a special scientific review.

“The more it becomes clear to people that the federal government is blocking these studies, the more people are willing to defect by using politics instead of science to legalize medicinal uses at the state level,” said Rick Doblin, executive director of a nonprofit group dedicated to researching psychedelics for medical uses.

In California, where a mish-mash of laws and enforcement policies can bewilder all but the expert — (and there are many experts) — the Supreme Court ruled yesterday that lawmakers acted improperly in amending the voter-approved legalization of medicinal marijuana to limit the amount critically ill patients might have:

The high court ruled lawmakers improperly “amended” the voter-approved law that decriminalized possession of marijuana for “seriously ill Californians” with a doctor’s prescription by limiting patients to eight ounces (227 grams) of dried marijuana and six mature or 12 immature plants.

The Compassionate Use Act, passed by California voters in 1996, set no limits on how much marijuana patients could possess or grow, stating only that it be for personal use.

In 1997, the state’s Supreme Court defined a lawful amount as enough to be “reasonably related to the patient’s current medical needs.”

The state’s quantity limits were passed in 2003 as part of a voluntary identification card program designed to protect against both drug trafficking and wrongful arrest by allowing police to quickly verify a patient’s prescription.

The court on Thursday let stand the voluntary card program but found that the limits it imposes should not “burden” a person’s ability to argue under the Compassionate Use Act that the marijuana possessed or grown was for personal use.

California Attorney General Jerry Brown said in a statement the decision “confirms our position that the state’s possession limits are legal” as applied to medical marijuana cardholders.

While conceding that marijuana may have some just-for-fun attraction too, I can’t vouch for the recreational weed. Thankfully, since I am addicted to anything that comes down the pike and question the view that marijuana is non-addictive,  it hadn’t made its way to small-town Virginia when I was experimenting with other mood-altering substances. But I do know its medicinal value. My beloved now-deceased sister could have had much suffering relieved with legal pot. Countless friends I loved and worked with during the height of the AIDS pandemic would have suffered less with legal, easily-accessible marijuana.

We are past time to establish, through definitive studies, the medicinal benefits of this natural bounty, and make it legally available to those in desperate need.


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  1. collapse expand

    Fran,

    It is not a medicine in the sense that medicines are supposed to HEAL. At best, it’s a a rather second-rate pain reliever. Though its side effects in terms of memory loss, brain damage, lung disease, and inexplicable affection for the Grateful Dead make it far more dangerous a pain reliever than, say, aspirin.

    No one is in “desperate need” of marijuana except for those “psychologically” addicted junkies in need of a fix.

    • collapse expand

      All social stigma and subjective views (bias) aside, what makes something a medicine has not so much to do with the drug in question but the organism for which the drug is being evaluated.

      If you don’t have really bad asthma, i wouldn’t recommend taking Advair because it may cause a number of side effects up to and including death. But if you have asthma so bad that it’s likely going to kill you, then it can be said that the drug has ‘medicinal’ properties for you. It will improve the quality (and/or quantity) of your life.

      Even non pot users are eminently aware of the effects it has on appetite. What most do not understand is how that quality of the drug (which is actually a panoply of active substances) also extends beyond basic hunger
      to even have an ameliorative effect on nausea.

      Not everyone can appreciate that last part. Only those who have sat by a bedside of someone who is dying, slowly and painfully, and watched the person also starve because any and all food offered looks unappealing to them, can appreciate the medicinal properties pot can have.

      That has nothing to do with having a substance abuse problem, which is something completely different.

      Ethan, you once again open your pie hole and insert your ignorant foot. I say your foot is ignorant because that must be
      where your brain is. I know, if you can’t say something nice, right? but this hits close to home. If i can honor the memory of someone i loved that suffered more than was necessary, because of THIS ignorance you are spewing, then i really don’t give two shits what anyone thinks of my harsh candor.

      Fran, please feel free to delete my comment: i don’t even like myself right now.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
    • collapse expand

      I certainly agree that marijuana probably has no healing qualities, and that its misuse can lead to such side effects as you list. But I think medicine is commonly defined as a treatment, and I still maintain that treatment to relieve pain is proper. I saw the relief it gave my sister, years ago, for digestive disease, though we quickly abandoned it in favor of staying out of jail. I also saw the relief it gave friends with AIDS, and in both of these instances the sufferers were desperate for relief. Having been addicted to nicotine & alcohol & Lord knows what else, I wish addiction of any sort on no one. My hope would be that legalization for proper use might afford better safeguards against the improper.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
    • collapse expand

      Thank you, Ethan, for telling us what medicine is ’supposed to do.’ Very few medicines do this, however, even if we were to agree on what healing is. The nature of ‘healing’ remains obscure. Medicines usually provides relief, while antibiotics kill microbes and ‘cure’ infections. ‘Healing’ is not a medical word, however, nor is ‘co-pay’ or ‘unnecessary surgery’ or ‘malpractice.’ Healing is usually taken to mean ‘get better’, and this too is not a medical word, but instead an estimation of the condition of the sufferer. In this sense marijuana definitely is a medicine, the Grateful Dead not withstanding.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
    • collapse expand
      ytk
      ytk

      You sir sound a like a bitter man. What sir has any Hippie ever done to you? Wait a go on picking a very dangerous group like Deadheads to rip on! You sure know your enemy! Sounds to me like someone likes to listen to Pen and Teller! Honestly…Your never gonna win with that attitude. You’ll find that being a bitter nerd who never watched “Revenge of the Nerds” makes you a tool!(NOT GEEK,rather meek) They toked up in it…Do you consider yourself “geek”? Or do you sport a Mcain Palin sticker on your bumper? Im guessing you lack female attraction and that could be helped by not being such a stuck up dork. Your picture tells me you are a very angry and/or sad man…Go smoke some weed then dream about how to be a better man…yes, I said dream…Cuz its dreaming that you miss. Its the ability to feel happiness for people that are more successful than you. Thats a good place to start. BTW-Did you see that Cheech and Chong were on FOX News? It made Raw Story even! So basically you ought to quit believing everything you think up about a plant you have no clue about…A physical plant that maybe a degree in botony would help you overstand.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
    • collapse expand

      You’re an idiot who has obviously not done any homework on the subject you’re just repeating what government propaganda has brainwashed you to say.

      Read tinyurl.com/1mn

      Cannabis cures cancer.

      Read tinyurl.com/1mn
      it was outlawed so Uncle Sam could stuff his prisons with nonviolent minorities to replace outlawed slave labor with prison labor.
      “Well, there it was, you didn’t have to look another foot as you went from state to state right on the floor of the state legislature. And so what was the genesis for the early state marijuana laws in the Rocky Mountain and southwestern areas of this country? It wasn’t hostility to the drug, it was hostility to the newly arrived Mexican community that used it.”

      In response to another comment. See in context »
  2. collapse expand

    I don’t think we know about the safety of marijuana. This is largely because during the Bush years, such studies were no permitted, or were permitted on a very limited basis. Certainly, there are many who attest that it relieves pain when nothing else will. And if someone were terminally ill, why would we care about what some believe are less than healthy side effects. We can only hope that the Obama administration will be open to the study of alternative ways of treating pain or disease not be chained to the big pharmaceutical companies. They are certainly not going to be happy if patients can grow their own medicine.

  3. collapse expand

    I suspect many of the people who could weigh in here don’t want their names with opinions recorded. There are plenty of people both here (SF County and San Mateo County)and other parts of the US and the world who know that marijuana makes a huge difference in how they make it through the day as sick and crippled people. Actually, there are conclusive studies and that’s why the various locales (some listed above)make it possible with a doctors prescription to order same.

  4. collapse expand

    You neglect to mention that the American Medical Association has called for U.S. authorities to reclassify the drug from Schedule I to Schedule II, thereby opening the door to new medical studies.

    In a November report, the AMA said:

    “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.”

    They could not be more clear: marijuana has medicinal value that should be explored.

    The U.S. government lists cocaine and methamphetamine as Schedule II substances, even though the clinical uses for both substances are obviously more limited than marijuana.

    The continued prohibition of medical marijuana highlights the greatest hypocrisy of the drug war establishment and leads reasonable, educated folk to suspect American authorities are playing a deadly game with motives unknown to the people they swear to be protecting.

    It’s as if big pharma united with the criminal underworld to block drug policy reforms and inflate their black profits by driving up the price of and penalties for pot and flooding the streets with prescription pills.

    … Not that I’d ever hurl such a specific allegation without specific evidence. ;O)

  5. collapse expand

    Wisconsin is next up to take its step Forward (that’s our state motto)

    Here in Madison we are working to try to assemble a sensible framework for our law makers who harbor vague “concerns” about how it might all play out. We are doing this at the WisconsinCompassionCenters.org forum.

    I invite anyone interested to toss in their 2cents worth. If we let the law makers do whatever they want we could end up being another New Jersey.

    Ich….

  6. collapse expand
    ytk
    ytk

    Im so sorry for ranting at Ethan. His very obvious snarl in his picture pushed me over the edge. Seriously though, Ive never understood how people could have such a negative view of the culture and people that are “Hippie”. Did you know that “Hippies” were and still are very often Anti-War demonstrators? Thats probably where the FEAR (cuz thats ultimately why people react like Ethan did) comes from…Maybe Uncle Sam took out MLK and JFK…Cuz they opposed the war and sought to unify poor and rich.
    Hippies made AVATAR. I should know. Hollyweed is full of “Hippies” and most good musicians like to occasionally or regularly smoke it. I can bet you that if they dont than theres also a real good chance they could care less if its was legalized.
    Finally-Yes, Marijuana is a Medicine. What sort of definition do we expect a medicine to have? A Drug is a Medicine correct? Would Marijuana ads have warnings about risks like coma and death? Oh…I bet Ethan had a bad experience with Ganja and has allowed that to shape his overall view on it. Its really not for everyone…But everyone can smoke it without fear of dying…How about that Pfizer? The American medical community is stiff in its ability to adapt…too stiff. The overall problem lies with the reluctance to try and accept new things. To listen to the past and to trust in some of the things that have long been considered Taboo…We are dying out here and you wanna tell us not to enjoy this plant? Listen…Its here to stay. Its increasingly being accepted and no article or post is gonna change that. No totalitarian and imperialist system can steal what god gave us…You will fail over and over if you try to stop this water from seeping deeper and deeper into the WORLDS psyche. Havent you ever listened to the music? Its plenty obvious that it has spoken and it has said it wants our freedom back. Now to go light up and then be glad Im a public school teacher and I can help warp some kids heads around the fact that not only have we been lied to but that we have the power to take back everything that has been stolen…Including the right to inhale a plants smoke. Yes, I am change.

  7. collapse expand
    ytk
    ytk

    Oh yea…Also. Marijuana does not cause Brain damage, Lung cancer/disease or memory loss.(We could debate the memory loss issue a bit…but I assure you there is no study that can find it does any permanent memory loss unless you look at one done by the DEA) I guess I was too busy picking apart the esteemed Etahn and his brilliant pointing out that Deadheads also smoke weed to realize just how absurd his “Medical” advice was.

    Can this fucking idiot please be fired from your staff and sent to work at Fox News? With such idiotic comments coming from your “Contributors” I have no problem using profanities and generally being an ass.

  8. collapse expand

    I think you should all stop calling it ‘marihuana/marijuana.’ We’re not speaking Mexican Spanish, and ‘marihuana’ was the Mexican Spanish word Harry Anslinger and Randolph Hearst called it to incite ‘fear of the unknown’ over the American populace; had Congress known that ‘marihuana’ was the same as cannabis hemp that American farmers had been growing for centuries, they never would have outlawed it. They used those words to stigmatize a plant: “Marihuana: Devil’s weed with roots in hell!” was a popular yellow journalism advertising campaign run by Hearst to get cannabis hemp outlawed to protect the value of his thousands of acres of forest used to make paper for his presses; had newspaper been made from cannabis hemp his empire would have crumbled.

    The government’s lies in the name of the ‘war on (some) drugs’ nearly cost me my life, and now I have a reason to live: to see the end of it. Illegal drug profits run the world economy and open the floodgates to the police state our country is quickly becoming. The ‘war on (some) drugs’ is a slap in the face to everything this country was founded on. Washington and Jefferson grew hemp, with Washington quoted as saying “Make the most of Indian hemp seed and sow it everywhere.” It was outlawed precisely because it was such a valuable crop. It provides for over 35,000 finished products, from building materials to clothing to paper to food to fuel to medicine, and your government spends BILLIONS of dollars a year to brainwash the public into thinking this plant, which has grown naturally for millions of years, is such a danger that it needs to be outlawed (even though humanity not only survived but thrived despite it’s continual existence).

  9. collapse expand

    This conversation has been beat to death with every pro smoking angle that can be brought forward. The medical application is the buzz of the last two decades. No longer do we talk about the Hemp fiber source vs the wood pulp source that the commercial interests of paper manufacturer and newspaper publisher Hearst was concerned about. We do not hear any more about the rights of a citizen to engage in an activity that is relaxing, mildly euphoric, or less dangerous than alcohol. Now, having a smoke after work jumps into the realm of big Pharma and The “King” Bud. Pharma has a pill for that after work, or anytime, desire to feel relaxed, and Bud has a six-pack for ya. I just attended a 60 year old birthday party. In attendance was a bank President, retired law enforcement official, mortgage managers and other professionals all nearing the end of their working careers. This group runs 75% drinkers to 25% smokers and has been a social group for over 20 years. The members are all “children of the 60’s”, 52 to 70 years old and have been using their drug-of-choice for 40+ years. Here are more of those unscientific test results, this “test” has been conducted for 40 years. The drinkers ailments include Lupus, lost Libedo, chronic fatigue syndrom, arthritis, and beginning signs of Alzheimers. The drinkers have had heart-bypass surgery, hysterectomy, and long treatments for fatigue and lupus. The drinkers daily medicine intake include most of the drugs that we see advertised on TV, from cialis to heart medications to mood elevators. The drinkers rarely want to continue the Party after 10:00 as they are tired, too drunk or are not “feeling well”. The current medical condition of the smokers will be discarded by the readers of this that do not support or are not open to such unscientific results, and this same group of readers will insist that the drinkers condition has nothing what-so-ever to do with the, for the most part daily, alcohol drinking of that group. Just for the record, one of the smokers has arthritis, a family condition, and one of the smokers, a twice a day meat kinda guy, takes Liptor. Half of the drinkers had to deal with their childrens alchohol issues, from driving to date-rape to recovery programs. I have been a smoker since 1967. I watch through the veil of someone who sees alcohol as an addictive poison. So, when I see sports programs that feature beer and drugs as sponsors I believe the two go hand in hand. Never mind the number of lives lost each year to drinking or the number of young people who grow up believing that this or that beer will get them the coolest girls/guys and will make it so that they will have the most fun. The life of a young Angel baseball pitcher was lost to a young man driving drunk. All the drivers fault. He was driving illegally since he had a previous drunk driving offense. Didn’t this young man know that the commercials he had seen all his life about how fun and acceptable drinking is, were simply marketing a poisonous addictive substance that is known to reduce clear thinking and increase violent behaviour? So, life goes on. Pot costs less than it did in the 70’s and my drinking friends are less and less active. Legal or not, pot is going to be smoked and as long as our government is going to error on the side of the big corporations we will continue to waste money on Hearst’s commercial interest, pharma’s greed and alcohol manufacturer’s lies.

  10. collapse expand
    ytk
    ytk

    Yea…Its called Cannabis.
    And I agree/believe that it really is corporations like DOW Chemical that are preventing it from being legalized entirely.
    Years and years of lies and fear have led some to misunderstand this very amazing plant.
    Again…they are going to fail at their attempt to stop it. In this racist country called a plant is enemy number 1 and I for one am increasingly eager to see our supposed “enemies” win.

  11. collapse expand

    everything can be medicinal if we accept that placebos work then we have too accept the potential of anything a person may believe is doing them good

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    About Me

    I’ve been a writer since probably before you were born: newspapers, magazines, trade publications and websites beginning with Beliefnet.com’s start-up issue. Working as a hospice volunteer and with AIDS groups led to a 1999 book Dying Unafraid (still in print and apropos) and more involvement with end-of-life causes. This is how to end any cocktail party conversation: “I write a lot about end-of-life issues.” So with Boomers and Beyond I’m working backwards and sideways and wherever concerns of these generations lead. I grew up in beautiful downtown Ashland, VA) and migrated through Atlanta eventually to San Francisco where I live with my final husband, Bud (my college Senior Dinner Dance date before we lost track of each other for 37 years.) Manhattan/Asheville/Atlanta kids, parents of my five flawless grandchildren, keep me attuned to Boomerhood. Full rather braggadocio disclosure: the Manhattan daughter Sandy is married to T/S super-contributor Miles O’Brien.

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