Friday, May 15, 2015

How Much Good Can Medical Marijuana Do Patients?


The year 1970 saw marijuana's exit from my life-- or so I thought. (A little background here.) But because of the pain and side effects from 6 months of chemotherapy, I've started a program of medical marijuana every night before bed. It has allowed me to sleep deeply, to re-regulate my digestive system, to manage the intense pain from neuropathy and to eat again (after I lost 45 pounds really fast). Without sleep and food, you don't heal. 

Now I'm healing. And I'm helping other people who need advice and guidance in the strange twilight world of medical marijuana that our bizarre puritan society still imposes. Orlando Congresssman Alan Grayson is, of course, on the side of the angels and is well aware that marijuana can be "a valid treatment for pain... Opponents of medical marijuana," he says, "live in abject fear that someone, somewhere, might be having a good time."

This week, Time's cover story is titled The Highly Divisive, Curiously Underfunded And Strangely Promising World Of Pot Science, and I'm hoping it helps open up a much-misunderstood, and much-maligned, subject to some public scrutiny and discussion. It shocks me that conservative legislators-- primarily Republicans of course-- could be so tone deaf as to leave elderly constituents suffering, cruelly and unnecessarily, because of some outmoded notions about marijuana and hippies. Republicans have managed to block research on a drug that's offering incredible pain-management advances in states where voters have given up on conservative shitheads who just carry out the wishes of wealthy campaign donors, like Big Pharma in this case.
The most common illicit drug on the planet and one of the fastest-growing industries in America, pot remains-- surprisingly-- something of a medical mystery, thanks in part to decades of obstruction and misinformation by the federal government. Potentially groundbreaking studies on the drug’s healing powers are being done to find treatments for conditions like epilepsy, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, sickle-cell disease and multiple sclerosis.

...[D]ecades of prohibition and official misinformation continue to shape public views. “The government did not spend as much effort in finding out the facts about marijuana,” says [scientific researcher Yasmin] Hurd. “That strategy of scaring people rather than provide knowledge has made people skeptical now when they hear anything negative.

"As states now rush to legalize pot and unwind a massive criminalization effort, the federal government is trying to play catch-up on the science, with mixed success. The only federal marijuana farm, at the University of Mississippi, has recently expanded production with a $69 million grant in March, and [the head of the National Institute for Drug Abuse, Nora] Volkow has expressed a new openness to studies of marijuana’s healing potential.

...But scientists and others point out that a shift to fund the real science of pot still has a long way to go. The legacy of the war on drugs haunts the medical establishment, and federal rules still put onerous restrictions on the labs around the country that seek to work with marijuana, which remains classified among the most dangerous and least valuable drugs. “We can do studies on cocaine and morphine without a problem, because they are Schedule II,” explains Fair Vassoler, a researcher at Tufts University who has replicated Hurd’s rat experiment with synthetic pot. “But marijuana is Schedule I.”

That means that under the law, marijuana has “no medical benefit,” even though 23 states have legalized pot as medicine and NIDA acknowledges that “recent animal studies have shown that marijuana can kill certain cancer cells and reduce the size of others.” And marijuana researchers face barriers even higher than those faced by scientists studying other Schedule I drugs, like heroin and LSD. Pot studies must pass intensive review by the U.S. Public Health Service, a process that has delayed and thwarted much research for more than 15 years. The result is sometimes a catch-22 for scientists seeking to understand the drug. “The government’s research restrictions are so severe that it’s difficult to find and show the medical benefit,” says neurobiologist R. Douglas Fields, the chief of the nervous-system-development section at the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

That all may change soon. On Capitol Hill, a left-right coalition of Senators Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Cory Booker of New Jersey introduced a bill in March to federally legalize medical marijuana in states that have already approved it. “For far too long,” said Paul, a Republican candidate for President, “the government has enforced unnecessary laws that have restricted the ability of the medical community to determine the medicinal value of marijuana.”

...While American research on the potential harms from marijuana is booming, the U.S. continues to lag in funding investigations into the possible benefits. In the late 1990s, the U.S. and British governments commissioned separate studies of medical marijuana. The U.K. study was spurred by multiple-sclerosis patients’ using pot to calm spasticity. The U.S. study, done by the Institute of Medicine, was in response to California’s 1996 legalization of medical marijuana.

Both studies reached a similar conclusion: medical pot wasn’t a hippie’s delusion. The research showed that the stuff held real therapeutic potential for specific conditions, including epilepsy, chronic pain and glaucoma. The British responded by treating marijuana as a plant with biotech prospects. U.K. officials licensed GW Pharmaceuticals, a startup lab in Salisbury, England, to grow weed and develop cannabinoid drugs, some of which U.S. scientists like Hurd use in their research.

The Americans, meanwhile, doubled down on the war on drugs. Barry McCaffrey, Bill Clinton’s drug czar, was outraged at the Institute of Medicine’s results. “I think what the IOM report said is that smoked marijuana is harmful, particularly for those with chronic conditions,” he said–pretty much the opposite of the report’s conclusions. Nonetheless, he and then Attorney General Janet Reno vowed to prosecute medical-marijuana patients and doctors who prescribed the drug. Shortly thereafter, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services adopted even tougher strictures against the study of marijuana as a medicine.

The federal antipot policies resulted in a strange kind of scientific trade deficit. The U.S. leads the world in studies of marijuana’s harm, but we’re net importers of data dealing with its healing potential. THC discoverer Raphael Mechoulam runs the world’s leading cannabinoid lab at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Spanish biologist Manuel Guzmán is doing cutting-edge work on the potential of cannabinoids to retard the growth of glioblastoma, one of the deadliest forms of brain cancer. Canada’s health agency may soon approve the world’s first clinical trial to test medical marijuana on military and police veterans with PTSD.

There are signs of change at home, though. This year, the Colorado department of public health awarded $9 million in grants for medical-marijuana research, funded with tax revenue from state-licensed pot stores. They will be among the first U.S. clinical trials to look into the effectiveness of marijuana for childhood epilepsy, irritable-bowel disease, cancer pain, PTSD and Parkinson’s disease. Dr. Kelly Knupp, a pediatric-epilepsy specialist at Children’s Hospital in Denver, will track children using high-CBD marijuana strains to calm seizures. “Some of these children can have 100 to 200 seizures a day,” Knupp says. “We’re hoping we can measure seizure frequency to see if there’s any improvement” among kids trying the cannabinoid medicine.
In the past, medical marijuana hasn't been a front-line issue for Blue America. We were happy when we found articulate spokespeople for legalization, like Beto O'Rourke (D-TX), Mark Pocan (D-WI), Jared Polis (D-CO), Alan Grayson (D-FL) and, of course, Barney Frank (D-MA), but it was never a make-or-break issue for us, like Choice, climate change or income inequality. Until now. 

Now medical marijuana legalization is a Blue America issue. We won't be endorsing candidates who oppose it. And I'm happy to report that our candidates support it. Mark Pocan, the wildly popular progressive leader from Madison, Wisconsin, warned us: "Make no mistake, our nation’s current drug policy is a broken relic of the last century. The 'War on Drugs' has cost the American taxpayer billions of dollars-- over $5 billion dollars is spent on enforcement of federal marijuana laws, including incarceration. In the past five years more than 23 states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for medical or recreational use. It’s time to bring federal marijuana policy in to the 21st century. Marijuana should be legalized and regulated at the federal level. We need to stop misusing federal tax dollars to prosecute non-violent crimes."

And Pocan is far from the only younger Member who understands the ramifications of the debate. El Paso Congressman Beto O'Rourke, who wrote a book about marijuana legalization, told us that if medical marijuana "relieves pain and improves quality of life, and is already legal in one form or another in half the states, why would we stand in the way of allowing doctors to prescribe their preferred treatment when it happens to be marijuana?"

And in California, where, at least technically, medical marijuana is already legal, one of our favorite incumbents and one of our favorite challengers, respectively Ted Lieu and Lou Vince, are commonsense backers of the humane approach. "In an era of limited resources," Lieu told us today, "it is insane to have federal investigators and prosecutors devote even one second of their time to investigating or prosecuting marijuana cases. This insanity rises to new levels when medical evidence shows marijuana can be useful in treating a variety of medical conditions. The current system is also corrosive to our democracy because states are now routinely ignoring the outdated federal law that criminalizes marijuana. It is time to stop the federal criminalization of marijuana." 

Lou Vince, an ex-marine and LAPD officer who is running in CA-25 (Santa Clarita, Simi Valley and the Antelope Valley) took a very pragmatic perspective: "According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Uniform Crime Report, police arrest more Americans per year on marijuana charges than the total number of arrestees for all violent crimes combined, including murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault. Decriminalizing marijuana frees up law enforcement resources to deal with more serious crimes. Nationwide, more than 60,000 individuals are behind bars for marijuana offenses at a cost to taxpayers of $1.2 billion per year. Furthermore, Decriminalizing Marijuana will go a long way to reduce the mass incarceration problem we face in America. Marijuana prohibition laws have been used to put African Americans in handcuffs at a much higher rate than whites-- black people are three times as likely to be arrested for personal marijuana possession even though young blacks consume marijuana at lower levels than young whites."

Alex Law will have just turned 25, the minimum age for occupying a House seat, by the time he beats Donald Norcross in New Jersey's first congressional district across the river from Philly. Although he talks a lot in his campaign about protecting Medicare and Social Security benefits for seniors, his age predicts he would be more open-minded about the benefits of medical marijuana than most elderly, brain-washed politicians are. "In America," he told us this morning, "we have a creed that we are the 'Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave' but truth be told, America has the largest percentage of its population in prison of all the countries in the civilized world. Crimes related to marijuana contribute significantly to that terrible reality. The legalization of marijuana is important for our society. The war against marijuana, a substance science has proven to have real medical benefits and to be significantly less harmful than other legal substances, has contributed to bankrupting many of our states. The war on marijuana has turned many nonviolent members of society into criminals. This is also an issue of racial equality. White Americans use marijuana at the same rate as African Americans, yet an overwhelming majority of arrests are of African American males. The enforcement of the current drug laws is just as wrong as the laws themselves. It is time we make the American deed match the American creed.

"States have long been considered he laboratories of democracy," Alex continued. This issue is no exception. Colorado has legalized marijuana and seen a huge net positive from that decision. Crime is down, tax revenues are up, there is a booming industry creating new middle class jobs, and the state has seen an increase in tourism. All of this has happened without any access to capital markets. The growth would explode even more if these new companies had access to financing, an ability to take credit card payment, and an ability to expand out of state. The federal government should follow Colorado’s lead and legalize marijuana in America. As progressives, this is a policy we must endorse."

Jason Ritchie is an entrepreneur from the Seattle area and he's running for the swing seat currently held by rabid anti-pot Republican Dave Reichert. "In 1998," said Jason, "the people of my State of Washington voted to become one of the first states to legalize medical marijuana. In 2012, they again set a precedent by voting overwhelmingly to legalize marijuana commercial sales. Our State legislature responded and set up a reasonable regulatory and tax structure. This has happened without incident, except for intransigent Republicans like Rep. Dave Reichert who continue to insist their values should supersede the will of the people. His arrogant and baseless opposition only serves to marginalize him from the people he purports to represent. I strongly support marijuana legalization in Washington State and look forward to ending mass incarcerations for non-violent drug possession."

Illinois state Senator Mike Noland is the lead sponsor of a bill in the Illinois General Assembly to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana. He's running for the House seat Tammy Duckworth is giving up and when he's in Congress, he will be counted on to be another clear voice in favor of legalization of medical marijuana. This is what he told us just a few minutes ago:

The time has come to allow patients to gain access to medical marijuana. Too many people are unnecessarily suffering when there is a natural alternative that can provide much relief from pain and other debilitating symptoms.

The medical community provides more than enough justification to legalize marijuana for medical purposes.

The American Medical Association has long supported research on medical marijuana.

What is known is that the ‘high’ experienced by those who use marijuana is from only one component: Delta-9-Tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC.  What’s more, our bodies contain a natural cannabinoid that regulates health and wellness.  Indeed, our systems are pre-programmed to work with the active ingredient in marijuana, THC, which may be superior to narcotic painkillers for neuropathy, or nerve pain. Moreover, marijuana can decrease the amount of narcotics needed for pain relief. Yet the science is unequivocal, unlike narcotic painkillers, marijuana has only the same addictive potential as caffeine.

Marijuana’s main side effect is euphoria, and is often used as a sedative for cancer patients.  In fact, it is currently being studied as a treatment for various forms of cancer itself.

The medical use of marijuana has also been shown to relieve the affects of both symptoms and the pain associated with AIDS/HIV, Arthritis, Asthma, Chronic Pain, Crohn’s Disease, Epilepsy, Glaucoma and Multiple Sclerosis. So, many people are suffering unnecessarily when there is a real possibility for hope and relief.

I am proud of my past support of this cause in the Illinois Senate and plan to continue to support the science-based policy of legalized medical marijuana.
If you'd like to help elect candidates like Jason, Alex, Mike and Lou, Blue America has a page for that. Medical marijuana won't legalize itself. We need to elect more progressives to Congress-- lots more. The last time Congress voted on legalizing marijuana, in late April, the proposal was defeated 210-213. 175 Democrats and 35 Republicans voted for legalization. 8 backward Democrats and 205 Republicans-- including Dave Reichert, of course-- voted to kill the legislation.

Lipinski, one of only 8 Democrats who want to see seniors suffer with unspeakable pain rather than get a prescription from their doctor for medical marijuana

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At 4:32 PM, Anonymous Tones said...

read somewhere that the Fed knew of the anti cancerous properties all the way back in the '70's.
Think about that!

At 4:20 AM, Blogger john knotts said...

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At 12:02 PM, Blogger Shawn Deny said...

That strategy of scaring people rather than provide knowledge has made people skeptical now when they hear anything negative.
medical marihuana

At 7:42 PM, Anonymous Nursing Jobs said...

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