Speaking late last year at a campaign stop in South Carolina, Democrat Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton pledged if elected President to reclassify marijuana under federal law from a Schedule I substance – the most restrictive category – to a Schedule II substance.
Said Clinton: "The problem with medical marijuana is there is a lot of anecdotal evidence about how well it works for certain conditions. But we haven't done any research. Why? Because it is considered that is called a schedule one drug and you can't even do research in it."
She added, "I would like to move it from what is called Schedule I to Schedule II so that researchers at universities, national institutes of health can start researching what is the best way to use it, how much of a dose does somebody need, how does it interact with other medications."
Although Clinton’s call for rescheduling represents an improved willingness on her part to advocate for marijuana law reform, her newfound stance is hardly progressive. Various advocacy organizations, including NORML, High Times, and Americans for Safe Access, have filed administrative petitions over the past decades seeking to amend cannabis’ Schedule I status. Even among her peers, Clinton’s position isn’t unique. This past spring, former Republican Presidential candidate Rand Paul (KY) co-sponsored Congressional legislation, The Compassionate Access, Research Expansion, and Respect States (CARERS) Act, to move marijuana from Schedule I to II and to permit VA doctors to recommend cannabis therapy to veterans. One-time Democrat Presidential hopeful Martin O'Malley also campaigned on the pledge that he would use his executive powers to move cannabis to Schedule II. Most notably, Clinton’s leading Democrat Presidential rival Bernie Sander (I-VT) introduced Senate legislation, S. 2237, the Ending Federal Marihuana Prohibition Act, to strike both marijuana and ‘tetrahydrocannabinols’ (aka THC) from the federal criminal code, thus leaving the decision of whether or not to legalize and regulate cannabis solely up to the individual states.
While Sanders’ proposal would significantly transform America’s marijuana policies, Clinton’s rescheduling plan would actually do little to change the existing legal landscape. Moreover, Clinton’s premise that scientists have yet to do any research on cannabis is woefully incorrect.
Unlike conventional pharmaceuticals, the marijuana plant possesses an extensive history of human use dating back thousands of years, thus providing society with ample empirical evidence as to its relative safety and efficacy. Moreover, despite cannabis’ modern day politicization, the plant and its compounds have nonetheless been subject to extensive scientific scrutiny. A search using the term “marijuana” on the website of the National Library of Medicine, the repository for all peer-reviewed scientific papers, yields more than 23,000 scientific papers referencing the plant and/or its constituents. Among this extensive body of literature are over 100 randomized controlled studies, involving thousands of subjects, evaluating the safety and efficacy of cannabis or individual cannabinoids. A 2012 review of several FDA-approved gold-standard cannabis clinical trials concluded, “Based on evidence currently available the Schedule I classification (for cannabis) is not tenable; it is not accurate that cannabis has no medical value, or that information on safety is lacking.”
In short, Clinton’s presumption that it is the absence of scientific research that necessitates the need to remove cannabis from Schedule I is both ill informed and unpersuasive. In truth, marijuana does not belong in Schedule I because ample scientific evidence already exists disproving the government’s claim that it is among the most dangerous substances known to man and that it lacks therapeutic utility. Moreover, reclassifying cannabis from I to II – the same category as cocaine – continues to misrepresent the plant’s safety relative to other controlled substances, and fails to provide states with the ability to regulate it free from federal interference.
Further, the federal policies in place that make clinical trial work with cannabis more onerous than it is for other controlled substances — such as the requirement that all source material be purchased from NIDA’s University of Mississippi pot program — are regulatory requirements that are specific to cannabis, not to Schedule I drugs in general. Simply rescheduling cannabis from I to II does not necessarily change these regulations.
In addition, the sort of gold-standard, large-scale, long-term Phase III safety and efficacy trials Ms. Clinton ostensibly advocates for are prohibitively expensive. As a result, trials of this kind are typically are funded by private pharmaceutical companies aspiring to bring a new product to market. In some cases, the federal government may assist in sharing these costs. However, political reality dictates that neither entity is likely to pony up the tens of millions of dollars necessary to conduct such trials any time soon, if ever.
This is not to say that rescheduling cannabis would not have any positive tangible effects. At a minimum, it would bring an end to the federal government’s longstanding intellectual dishonesty that marijuana ‘lacks accepted medical use.’ It would also likely permit banks and other financial institutions to work with state-compliant marijuana-related businesses, and permit employers in the cannabis industry to take tax deductions similar to those enjoyed by other businesses. But ultimately, such a change would do little to significantly loosen federal prohibition or to make herbal cannabis readily accessible for clinical study. These goals can only be accomplished by federally decsheduling cannabis in a manner similar to alcohol and tobacco, thus providing states the power to establish their own marijuana policies free from federal intrusion.
So much for the munchies. Recently published data from Canada shows that a steady diet of cannabis is actually associated with smaller waistlines.
Quebec researchers assessed body mass indexes in a cohort of 786 Inuit (Arctic aboriginal) adults aged 18 to 74. Over half of the subjects in the sample (57.4 percent) reported having used cannabis within the past year. On average, those adults who consumed cannabis possessed a significantly lower body mass index (BMI: 26.8) as compared to those with no history of pot use (BMI: 28.6). Marijuana users also possessed lower percentages of body fat mass (25 percent) compared to non-users (28 percent).
In addition, pot smokers possessed lower fasting insulin levels compared to non-users—an indicator that they were at a lower risk for developing diabetes.
The researchers’ findings appeared in the journal Obesity.
The study is not the first to link cannabis use with lower incidences of obesity and diabetes.
In 2011, French researchers analyzed data from a group of over 50,000 U.S. adults, finding: "The prevalence of obesity was significantly lower in cannabis users than in nonusers.” Respondents who reported using the substance most often (three days per week or more) were least likely to be obese compared to those who reported no cannabis use in the past 12 months.
More recently, data published in the British Medical Journal in 2012 reported that adults with a history of marijuana use have a lower prevalence of type 2 diabetes and possess a lower risk of contracting the disease than those with no history of consumption. This decreased risk remained present even after investigators adjusted for potentially confounding social variables (ethnicity, level of physical activity, etc.) and despite both users and non-users sharing a similar family history of the disease.
Researchers at Harvard Medical School and the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston similarly determined that subjects who regularly consume pot possess favorable indices related to diabetic control as compared to occasional consumers or non-users of the substance.
Investigators reported, "[S]ubjects who reported using marijuana in the past month had lower levels of fasting insulin and HOMA-IR [insulin resistance], as well as smaller waist circumference and higher levels of HDL-C [high-density lipoprotein or 'good' cholesterol]. These associations were not as strong among those who reported using marijuana at least once, but not in the past 30 days—suggesting that the impact of marijuana use on insulin and insulin resistance exists during periods of recent use."
This association between cannabis use and diabetes was again reaffirmed in a 2015 meta-analysis published in the journal Epidemiology, which concluded, “[T]here now is a more stable evidence base for new lines of clinical translational research on a possibly protective...cannabis smoking-diabetes mellitus association suggested in prior research.”
It was a banner year for marijuana in politics, with market legalization in Oregon and Alaska, personal legalization in Washington DC and South Portland, Maine, decriminalization in two New Mexico counties and six Michigan cities, and medical marijuana in Guam and Florida (which would have passed in any other state, but Florida required a 60 percent vote).
That also means it was a banner year for the prohibitionists to take to the airwaves, print, and online media to proclaim the devastation wrought by legalization in Washington and Colorado and to forecast the destruction the new marijuana policies will bring. These are the five most reefer mad prohibitionist statements of 2014.
5. “Marijuana Legalization = Filthy Toilets.”
Christine Tatum is the wife of Dr. Christian Thurstone, who is a board member with anti-legalization group Project SAM and a Denver-area rehab entrepreneur. Tatum lamented the terrible customer service at her local Lowe’s home improvement store when a manager told her Lowe’s was understaffed because too few applicants can pass the pre-employment piss test.
“Wonder of wonders, Lowe’s doesn’t want people acutely or sub-acutely under the influence of marijuana operating forklifts, using circular saws, cutting ceramic tiles, driving company trucks — or cleaning its toilets,” Tatum writes, proud that her pristine ass never has to touch a Lowe’s toilet seat cleaned by a pothead. (“Acutely” means under the influence of THC. “Sub-acutely” means under the influence of THC-COOH, marijuana’s non-impairing metabolite. So, yes, Christine Tatum thinks someone who may have smoked pot on the weekend would be too impaired by Monday to be trusted to clean a toilet safely.)
4. Use Marijuana and Your Brain Won’t Work Anymore.
Dr. Stuart Gitlow, is the president of the American Society for Addiction Medicine and not, as I’d hoped, a funk deejay character in an Austin Powers movie. Gitlow explained, “If you use marijuana heavily prior to age 25, your brain won’t work anymore.”
If brain shutdown wasn’t bad enough, we also have to worry about the fatality potential of this brand-new, never-heard-of, no-historical-record marijuana stuff. “Will you die young, as with tobacco? We’ll have to wait a generation to find out, just as we did with tobacco. Our children will be the guinea pigs.”
3. “Use Marijuana and You’ll Become an Islamic Terrorist.”
Cliff Kincaid writes in the ironically-named Accuracy in Media about “black thug” Michael Brown and “black juvenile delinquent” Trayvon Martin to demonstrate how the wacky weed turns teens into violent criminals. But Kincaid saves his best reefer madness for Canadian man “who was… a pothead” that infamously joined Islamic terror group ISIS and the Boston Marathon Bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev who “was not only a dope smoker but a dealer.”
“It may be too early to draw a direct connection between jihad, marijuana, and mass murder,” writes Kincaid, “but it is worth considering whether consumption of the drug can alter the mind to such an extent that jihad becomes appealing to some mentally unstable individuals.”
2. “Marijuana’s Not Less Dangerous as Meth, Crack, Cocaine and Heroin.”
Reps. Jared Polis and Steve Cohen, grilled the head of the Drug Enforcement Administration, Michele Leonhart, the woman who said a hemp flag flying over the White House was her lowest point in a 33-year DEA career. Here’s Rep. Polis questioning Leonhart under oath.
Polis: Is crack worse for a person than marijuana?
Leonhart: I believe all illegal drugs are bad.
Polis: Is methamphetamine worse for somebody’s health than marijuana?
Leonhart: I don’t think any illegal drug is good.
Leonhart: Again, all drugs…
Polis: (Cutting off Leonhart) It’s either ‘yes,’ ‘no,’ or ‘I don’t know.’ If you don’t know you can look this up. You should know as the Chief administrator for the Drug Enforcement Agency. Is heroin worse for someone’s health than marijuana?
Rep. Cohen didn’t get much more of a response:
Cohen: Would you agree that marijuana causes less harm to individuals than meth, crack, cocaine, and heroin?”
Leonhart: As a former police officer, as a 32-year DEA agent, I can tell you that I think marijuana is an insidious drug.
Cohen: That’s not the question I asked you ma’am. Does [marijuana] cause less damage to the American society and to individuals than meth, crack, cocaine, and heroin? Does it make people have to kill to get their fix?
Leonhart: I can tell you that more teens enter treatment for…
Cohen: (Cutting off Leonhart) Can you answer my question?
1. “Marijuana’s Killed Five Young Infants in Colorado.”
As Oregon geared up to pass Measure 91, Dr. Ronald Schwerzler, the medical director of the Serenity Lane rehab chain, was called on by the No on 91 campaign as a medical advisor. He participated in the only televised debate over the marijuana legalization measure, where he uttered the most reefer mad statement of 2014.
“Let’s just concentrate on those [marijuana] edibles. There have been five infant children deaths in Colorado that have picked up these drugs – from gummi bears, fruity pebbles – five young infants have died! Now, if that’s not catastrophic, I don’t know what is.”
He should have known better than to say that in front of a Portland, Oregon, audience. The crowd immediately began shouting “lies” and demanded a “source?” When he heard someone yell “not true,” he responded, “yeah, it is.”
Schwerzler was forced to issue a retraction to the local newspaper and that retraction showed on screen as the televised debate was replayed for the Sunday morning talk show hour.
The following first appeared in High Times:
Since Americans cannot seem to refrain from killing themselves with prescription painkillers, the United States Drug Enforcement Administration has made the decision to implement new restrictions that will reclassify all hydrocodone-based medications and put them in the same ranks as cocaine.
The DEA announced its latest rules for patients who receive popular hydrocodone combination drugs such as Vicodin and Lortab, which will only allow them to receive a 90-day prescription and force them to see a physician in order to obtain a refill. Previously, doctors were permitted to call in refills for pain medication over the phone, which was typically done by the nurses and physician assistants. However, the new regulations no longer allow anyone but a physician to approve refills on prescription opioids.
“Almost seven million Americans abuse controlled-substance prescription medications, including opioid painkillers, resulting in more deaths from prescription drug overdoses than auto accidents,” DEA administrator Michele Leonhart said in a statement. “Today’s action recognizes that these products are some of the most addictive and potentially dangerous prescription medications available.”
It has been over a decade since the DEA first suggested the reclassification of hydrocodone over concerns of abuse and addiction. Yet, the effort was never able to gain much momentum due to predictions by the Food and Drug Administration that reclassifying the drug would be more of a hassle than what it is worth. That opinion changed last year, when the FDA finally admitted that prescription painkillers were causing an uprising in overdose deaths across the nation -- killing 15,000 people in 2009, according to the CDC, following a 300 percent increase in opioid sales over a span of ten years.
Hydrocodone combination drugs, like Vicodin, were given a Schedule III classification with the passing of the Controlled Substances Act in 1970, which provided them with looser restrictions than Schedule II drugs like Oxycodone and morphine. However, in 45 days, these combination painkillers, which were once believed to have a “moderate to low potential for physical and psychological dependence,” will be added to the Schedule II listing -- preventing patients from taking these medication for up to six months without a check up with their doctor.
Many health experts believe this was a crucial move in protecting the average citizen from succumbing to the wrath of dangerous drugs. “Regardless of the painkiller that they’re using, if you speak with them, nine times out of 10, they’ll tell you that their addiction began with use of Vicodin, either medical or recreational,” said Dr. Andrew Kolodny, with Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing.
“This is probably the single most important change that could happen on a federal level to bring this public health crisis under control,” Kolodny added. “It will take time to see the impact, but this will turn out to be a turning point in this epidemic.”
According to the Congressional Research Service, the United States is the only industrialized western nation that fails to grow hemp commercially. But that reality is rapidly changing.
In February, members of Congress approved language (Section 7606) in the omnibus federal farm bill (the United States Agricultural Act of 2014) authorizing states to sponsor hemp research absent federal reclassification of the plant. States the new federal provision: “The growing or cultivating of industrial hemp is allowed under the laws of the State in which such institution of higher education or State department of agriculture is located and such research occurs.”
Since that time, lawmakers in several states have approved legislation permitting state-sponsored hemp cultivation programs. Utah legislators have approved a measure allowing for the cultivation of hemp for potential medicinal extracts. Hawaii university researchers are planning to grow the plant to assess its potential as a phytomediator (a plant capable of removing toxins from the soil) and as a biofuel. Newly enacted provisions in Indiana, Nebraska, and Tennessee also allow for licensed producers of the crop. In recent days, lawmakers in Illinois and South Carolina approved similar hemp measures. Both of those measures now await action from their state’s respective Governors.
Nationwide, over a dozen US states now have enacted legislation redefining hemp as an agricultural commodity and allowing for state-sponsored research and/or cultivation of the crop.
But although state and federal hemp laws are rapidly changing, agents at the US Drug Enforcement Administration have been slow to respond to the memo. Last week, Kentucky state officials sued the US Drug Enforcement Administration after the agency refused to turn over a shipment of hemp seeds that were intended to be used as part of a state-approved research program. (State lawmakers approved legislation legalizing the licensed production of hemp in 2013.) After two federal hearings, as well as a face-to-face meeting with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (who represents Kentucky and was one of the authors of the 2014 federal hemp provisions), DEA officials on last Thursday agreed to authorize the shipment of hemp seeds to go forward -- ending the approximately weeklong standoff. Kentucky’s first modern hemp planting may occur as soon as this weekend.
In July 2013 federal report, titled "Hemp as an Agricultural Commodity," the Congressional Research Service concluded that the hemp plant is “genetically different” from cultivated cannabis and acknowledged that its components may be utilized in the production of thousands of products, including paper, carpeting, home furnishing, construction and insulation materials, auto parts, animal bedding, body care products and nutritional supplements. It concluded, “[T]he US market for hemp-based products has a highly dedicated and growing demand base, as indicated by recent US market and import data for hemp products and ingredients, as well as market trends for some natural foods and body care products. Given the existence of these small-scale, but profitable, niche markets for a wide array of industrial and consumer products, commercial hemp industry in the United States could provide opportunities as an economically viable alternative crop for some US growers.”
The following article first appeared in High Times:
For the estimated five million Americans suffering from Fibromyalgia (FM), a chronic pain condition of unknown etiology, pain, fatigue, and depression are often a way of life. Though the US Food and Drug Administration has approved a small number of drugs to treat symptoms of FM, many patients report that these prescription pills provide little relief. By contrast, more and more patients with FM are finding effective relief from medical cannabis.
So say the results of a recent online survey of over 1,300 subjects conducted by The National Pain Foundation and NationalPainReport.com. Among those surveyed, 379 subjects said that they had used cannabis therapeutically. Sixty-two percent of them rated the substance to be “very effective” in the treatment of their condition. Only five percent of said that cannabis did “not work at all.”
By comparison, among those FM patients who had used Cymbalta (Duloxene), only eight percent rated the drug as “very effective,” and 60 percent said it did “not work at all.” Among those who had used Lyrica (Pregabalin), ten percent said that drug was “very effective,” versus 61 percent who reported no relief. Among those who had used Savella (Milnacipran), ten percent rated the drug as effective, and 68 percent said it was ineffective.
Commenting on the survey results, Dr. Mark Ware -- associate professor in family medicine and anesthesia at McGill University in Montreal -- told the National Pain Report, “We desperately need someone to step up and explore this potential for the efficacy of cannabis.”
Ware, whose own clinical research has demonstrated inhaled pot’s efficacy in subjects with hard-to-treat refractory pain, added: “The scientific rationale is there. There are some early preliminary, proof-of-concept clinical trials that demonstrate cannabis may be effective. Now your study adds additional weight that patients are reporting that cannabis may be better than the existing therapies. I think that this really should provide incentives for researchers to take a hard look at clinical trials to really explore that in much more detail.”
Some investigators already have. In 2006, German scientists reported that the administration of oral THC significantly reduced both chronic and experimentally induced pain in patients with fibromyalgia. Subjects in the trial were administered daily doses of 2.5 to 15 mg of THC, but received no other pain medication during the study. Among those participants who completed the trial, all reported significant reductions in daily pain and electronically induced pain.
More recently, Spanish researchers assessed the use of cannabis treatment of Fibromyalgia. A cursory review of the results indicates why so many FM patients are preferring pot over pills.
Investigators reported, “The use of cannabis was associated with beneficial effects on some FM symptoms. … After two hours of cannabis use, VAS (visual analogue scales) scores showed a statistically significant reduction of pain and stiffness, enhancement of relaxation, and an increase in somnolence and feeling of well being.”
They concluded, “We observe significant improvement of symptoms of FM in patients using cannabis in this study although there was a variability of patterns. This information, together with evidence of clinical trials and emerging knowledge of the endocannabinoid system and the role of the stress system in the pathophysiology of FM suggest a new approach to the suffering of these patients.”
Opponents of legalizing cannabis for medicinal purposes are fond of arguing that the plant must be subjected to the same standards of clinical study and FDA review as conventional medicines. What they fail to mention is that cannabis and its active components have already been subjected to a greater degree of scientific scrutiny than many FDA-approved pharmaceuticals.
According to a just-published analysis of some 200 newly FDA-approved medications, few conventional drugs are tested in multiple, large-scale clinical assessing safety and efficacy trials prior to market approval. “[A]bout a third won approval on the basis of a single clinical trial, and many other trials involved small groups of patients and shorter durations,” reports the Washington Post in its summary of the study, which appears in the January edition of The Journal of the American Medical Association. “Only about 40 percent of approvals included trials in which the new drug was compared with existing drugs on the market.”
By comparison, there exists over 20,000 published studies or reviews in the scientific literature referencing the cannabis plant and its cannabinoids, nearly half of which were published within the last five years, according to a keyword search on PubMed Central, the government repository for peer-reviewed scientific research. Of these, more than 100 are controlled clinical trials assessing the therapeutic efficacy of cannabinoids for a variety of indications.
A 2006 review of 72 of these trials, conducted between the years 1975 and 2004, identifies ten distinct pathologies for which controlled studies on cannabinoids have been published. The review concludes that these trial data “affirm that cannabinoids exhibit an interesting therapeutic potential as antiemetics, appetite stimulants in debilitating diseases (cancer and AIDS), analgesics, as well as in the treatment of multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injuries, Tourette syndrome, epilepsy and glaucoma.”
A 2010 review of 37 additional controlled trials, conducted between the years 2005 and 2009, similarly acknowledges the plant’s efficacy, finding, “Based on the clinical results, cannabinoids present an interesting therapeutic potential mainly as analgesics in chronic neuropathic pain, appetite stimulants in debilitating diseases (cancer and AIDS), as well as in the treatment of multiple sclerosis.” The review estimates that some 6,100 patients suffering from a wide range of ailments have taken part in clinical cannabis trials over the past decades – a far greater cohort of subjects than would typically participate in clinical trials for more conventional therapeutics.
Most recently, a 2012 review of more recent clinical trials conducted by the California Center for Medicinal Research, involving several hundred patients, concluded emphatically: “Recent clinical trials with smoked and vaporized marijuana, as well as other botanical extracts, indicate the likelihood that the cannabinoids can be useful in the management of neuropathic pain, spasticity due to multiple sclerosis, and possibly other indications...Based on evidence currently available the Schedule I classification is not tenable; it is not accurate that cannabis has no medical value, or that information on safety is lacking.”
The bottom line: Scientists now know more about cannabis as a medicine than regulators know about many of the FDA-approved pharmaceuticals that the plant could replace.
The following originally appeared in High Times.
It may be awhile before national corporations blatantly target the stoner market with mainstream advertising campaigns, but many companies have found a way to infiltrate the late-night psyche of the cannabis cult insurgence by producing commercials with subliminal messages aimed at turning the marijuana munchies into big business.
Fast food chains are the usual suspects: junk food slingers like Taco Bell, Jack in the Box, Denny’s and Carl’s Jr. are all vying for the attention of the American high life with clever advertisements produced to keep late-night smokers lining up at the local drive-thru.
Yet, it’s not just the fast food nation attempting to creep into the minds and wallets of weed enthusiasts. Spirit Airlines recently introduced a series of ads informing eager marijuana tourists that, “The no smoking sign is off” in Colorado and to, “Get mile high” by taking advantage of discounted fares.
Marketing experts say that companies like Spirit want to stay smart in their efforts to reach the newly legalized marijuana market, while skating around the politics -- other companies want to avoid it like the plague. However, experts agree that the public can expect to see more advertising geared towards the pot-friendly consumer in the future.
“Many brands in this country aren’t going anywhere near the legalization issue. For most brands, that’s very smart,” said Timothy Calkins, marketing professor at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. “Some brands, though, can push this. We’re going to see more brands take advantage of this and use this as a way to define themselves. Spirit Airlines has a certain character and, as a result, I think this works for Spirit. But we’re not going to see United (Airlines) embrace the same idea anytime soon.”
Spirit’s latest campaign may have been successful, but the Federal Aviation Administration was not impressed. In fact, there is speculation that the federal agency could take measures to ensure the ads are never seen again.
“If this (campaign) continues in any way, Spirit will have a regulatory issue to deal with,” said Robert Dilenschneider, crisis management expert and head of the Dilenschneider Group. “Air space is controlled by different governing bodies in the US and it won’t be long before legal and regulatory forces exert themselves. The FAA will likely intervene and halt the campaign because it violates regulatory standards.”
Regardless of alcohol, sex and violence being glamorized ever day in American advertising, marijuana opponents say they are convinced a revolt is imminent if companies do not stop marketing their products and services to stoners.
“Parents who may not have taken interest in the debate before, all of the sudden want to take interest (when they see these TV commercials),” said anti-pot blowhard Kevin Sabet, co-founder of Project SAM. “They’re realizing it’s not what they voted for or what they bargained for. So I think it’s a very risky move for the companies that use advertising. They risk a backlash.”
Like it or not, marijuana is moving into the mainstream. And despite the conservative ideologies of our opposing forces, we at High Times can promise you that society will not crumble under the influence of advertisements portraying stoners eating tacos.
The following originally appeared in High Times.
The August 11, 2013 premiere of Dr. Sanjay Gupta's documentary, "Weed," prominently featured elderly people in Israel and a young man in Denver experiencing remarkable medical recovery thanks to medical marijuana. However, the one patient who captured nation's imagination was little Charlotte Figi, the girl with the intractable epilepsy called Dravet Syndrome that seems to be nearly cured by the high-cannabidiol (CBD) extract from the Charlotte's Web variety of cannabis.
While nobody with a heart and brain would deny Charlotte her medicine, or deny that CBD is profoundly medical, what has happened since the public has grown aware of this treatment is a bifurcation of medical marijuana as an issue. We now have "Alepsia," the name lawmakers in Utah have coined for the high-CBD extract Charlotte uses, versus "medical marijuana," that sticky crude raw plant that still contains the nasty delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) that gets you high.
You can hear it in the defense of providing this Alepsia in states where medical marijuana is forbidden. "It has less THC in it than hemp milk in a grocery store," goes the common refrain, "so it can't possibly get the patient high." While this is something parents of epileptic kids are happy to hear, the AIDS, cancer, Crohn's, cachexia, PTSD, and other patients who require the medicinal value of THC are probably cringing at the re-demonization of the other half of medical marijuana.
When medical marijuana began, proponents of legalization accepted it as a "baby step" necessary to open the public's mind to acceptance of marijuana. Once folks saw it help patients with little impact to society, the strategy went, they'd open up to legalizing recreational use. That seems to have been the case, as the first states to legalize and the next ones expected to legalize all have medical marijuana laws.
But as time marches on, medical marijuana's baby steps keep getting smaller. California's wide open "any condition" medical marijuana became "qualifying condition lists" and "patient registries" in the next ten medical marijuana states through 2010, and then became "strict condition lists" and "no home grow" in the nine medical marijuana states since 2010. Baby steps are supposed to eventually evolve to walking and running; they're not supposed to devolve back to crawling.
Now medical marijuana is threatening to become "CBD-only." Lawmakers in Florida, Pennsylvania, Alabama, and Kentucky who had introduced medical marijuana bills in the past are now abandoning those plans and introducing bills that only legalize "Alepsia"-style medical marijuana. Oddly, medical marijuana advocates who are quick to accuse legalizers of "throwing patients under the bus" with legalization bills are silent on the THC-needing patients thrown under the bus in these four states. Apparently, a legalization bill has to be perfect to get some medical marijuana advocates' support, but there's no limit to how compromised a medical marijuana bill can be and earn their support.
In a sense, the strategy of leveraging compassion for the sick is backfiring against us. In the beginning, we would put the cancer patient front and center and ask, "How could you not support medical marijuana to alleviate this person's suffering?" People who might have hated pot were forced to hate cancer more and support medical marijuana. Now the epileptic child is front and center and medical marijuana supporters are asked, "How could you not support a CBD-only medical marijuana law to alleviate this child's suffering?" We're forced to support medical marijuana that won't benefit most of the patients that need it and support for THC is now being equated with support for getting high.
Meanwhile, GW Pharmaceuticals, the drug maker behind the whole-plant extract Sativex spray intended to be a replacement for medical marijuana, is busy preparing to introduce Epidiolex, a CBD-extract to mimic Alepsia, for testing and trials. Sativex is in its Phase III clinical trials and may be ready for US distribution before the 2016 election. Epidiolex is sure to be fast-tracked for approval by the FDA in response to the overwhelming reaction to Charlotte Figi and migration of hundreds of sick kids' families to Colorado. How will the dispensary-only medical marijuana systems defend stocking cannabis plant products when there are legit pharmaceuticals of reliable dose and equal or better efficacy, approved by the federal government, prescribed by physicians, and paid for by insurance? How will home grow states defend allowing patients to harvest a plant that can get non-patients high and is a black-market commodity, especially in Washington where that would be competiti!
on for the legal market?
In the next ten years, the path of medical marijuana leads to pharmaceuticals. Those who wish to defend medical use of the whole plant, THC and all, need to recognize that legalization is now the only path that gets you there. Without legalization, medical marijuana must become more restrictive and eventually pharmaceuticalized to filter out the "stoners" looking to get high. If you want your THC for medicine, you're going to have to join those of us fighting for THC to get high.
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Is teen pot use really associated with long-lasting, adverse effects on memory and an increased risk of schizophrenia? The conventional media says so. But a closer examination of the scientific literature reveals that it is the mainstream media, not cannabis consumers, who are suffering from memory loss.
Marijuana Use and Cognition
Claims that marijuana consumption causes permanent damage to the brain and cognitive skills are hardly new. In fact, such claims have remained pervasive since the very inception of cannabis prohibition. Yet there exists little scientific data to support these persistent allegations.
For example, a comprehensive review published in 2003 in the Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society assessed effects of cannabis on neurocognitive performance in nearly a dozen published studies, involving over 1,000 test subjects. Authors reported: “In conclusion, our meta-analysis of studies that have attempted to address the question of longer term neurocognitive disturbance in moderate and heavy cannabis users has failed to demonstrate a substantial, systematic, and detrimental effect of cannabis use on neuropsychological performance. It was surprising to find such few and small effects given that most of the potential biases inherent in our analyses actually increased the likelihood of finding a cannabis effect.”
A 2012 meta-analysis of 33 separate studies by researchers at the University of Central Florida Department of Psychology similarly reported that moderate to heavy marijuana consumers failed to experience “enduring negative effects” associated with cognition. Writing in the journal Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology, investigators reported that cannabis chronic consumption may be associated with "small" effects on neurocognitive abilities for limited periods of time lasting beyond the immediate hours of intoxication, but they found "no evidence of lasting effects on cognitive performance due to cannabis use" in subjects whose abstention period was at least 25 days. Authors concluded: "As hypothesized, the meta-analysis conducted on studies evaluating users after at least 25 days of abstention found no residual effects on cognitive performance... These results fail to support the idea that heavy cannabis use may result in long-term, persistent effects on neuropsychological functioning."
Marijuana Use and Schizophrenia
The mainstream media has long been fixated on the allegation that smoking pot will make you crazy. (For perspective, read my 2011 HIGH TIMES feature, "Don’t Blame the Reefer,") So it was hardly unusual to see mainstream news outlets this week run with headlines implying that marijuana use may increase one’s risk of schizophrenia. Yet, scientific research establishing such a link remains tenuous. In fact, in the days prior to this week’s media frenzy, researchers at Harvard University released a study soundly rebutting this allegation.
Writing in the peer-reviewed journal Schizophrenia Research, investigators compared the family histories of 108 schizophrenia patients and 171 individuals without schizophrenia to assess whether youth cannabis consumption was an independent factor in developing the disorder. Researchers reported that a family history of schizophrenia increased the risk of developing the disease, regardless of whether or not subjects consumed cannabis as adolescents. They concluded: “The results of the current study, both when analyzed using morbid risk and family frequency calculations, suggest that having an increased familial risk for schizophrenia is the underlying basis for schizophrenia in these samples and not the cannabis use. While cannabis may have an effect on the age of onset of schizophrenia it is unlikely to be the cause of illness.”
The finding was hardly a surprise. After all, worldwide rates of schizophrenia have largely remained stable for decades despite dramatic changes in per capita marijuana use. In countries with marked spikes in cannabis use, researchers have failed to report parallel increase in incidences of schizophrenia or psychotic disorders.
Further, studies indicate that specific cannabinoids, such as cannabidiol (CBD), may even be efficacious in treating symptoms of the disease. According to a review published in the November issue of the journal Neuropsychopharmacology, “CBD has some potential as an antipsychotic treatment. … Given the high tolerability and superior cost-effectiveness, CBD may prove to be an attractive alternative to current antipsychotic treatment.” More notably, a 2012 double-blind, randomized placebo-controlled trial assessing CBD versus the prescription anti-psychotic drug amisulpride in 42 subjects with schizophrenia and acute paranoia concluded that two substances provided similar levels of improvement, but that cannabidiol did so with far fewer adverse side effects.
The Bottom Line
Societal concerns regarding cannabis’ potential impact on the adolescent brain and its possible association with psychiatric illnesses arguably warrant further study. However, such concerns -- even if confirmed by sound clinical science -- are not persuasive justifications for continuing cannabis criminalization. Just the opposite is true. There are numerous adverse health consequences associated with alcohol, tobacco and prescription drugs, all of which are far more dangerous and costlier to society than cannabis. It is precisely because of these consequences that these products are legally regulated and their consumption is restricted to specified consumers and settings. Further, abuse of these substances is discouraged and science-based education campaigns regarding these products’ potential risks are prevalent. So isn’t it time we once and for all ended our nearly century-long love affair with reefer madness and applied these same common sense principles to cannabis?