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On The Cannabis Conundrum

By Robert Ross, CHZT


“If people let the government decide what foods they eat and what medicines they take, their bodies will soon be in as sorry a state as are the souls who live under tyranny.”

— Thomas Jefferson


“A nation of dopes” quipped Governor Jerry Brown when asked about legalizing cannabis. Barack Obama’s thoughts on cannabis were a little more entertaining: “When I was a kid I inhaled frequently. That was the point.” Richard Nixon asserted that “Federal and state laws should be changed to no longer make it a crime to possess marijuana for private use.” Carl Sagan believed that “cannabis helps produce the serenity and insight, sensitivity and fellowship so desperately needed in this increasingly mad and dangerous world.”  But, perhaps Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s (Chief Medical Correspondent for CNN) statement about medical cannabis was the most telling: “We have been terribly and systematically misled for nearly 70 years in the United States, and I apologize for my own role in that.”

The DEA has listed marijuana, or cannabis, as a Schedule 1 substance — considered to be the most dangerous. As defined by the United States Controlled Substances Act, a Schedule 1 drug has a high potential for abuse, has no currently accepted medical use, and lacks accepted safety standards for the use of the drug. It is on par with heroin. Yet this ‘dangerous’ substance is being legally used in twenty states plus the District of Columbia to relieve the side effects of chemotherapy, reduce MS symptoms and lessen seizure disorders. It was also used by AIDS patients to counter the Wasting Syndrome experienced by many sufferers in the early 1990’s. During that time period it was learned that nausea, appetite loss, pain, and anxiety could be mitigated by marijuana. Is it really a dangerous substance? 

The Federal government lists marijuana as having no medicinal benefits, yet the evidence is overwhelming that this lowly weed could change the face of disease on this planet.

In the CNN special, titled Weed, Dr. Sanjay Gupta spent a year studying the medical aspects of marijuana and concluded that the evidence in favor of marijuana as medicine is, in his own words: “stunning.” Initially, Gupta, a high-profile neurosurgeon, traveled to Israel, where extensive analysis is being done on cannabis by Dr. Raphael Mechoulam, who is considered the father of medical marijuana research. Dr. Mechoulam is credited with isolating tetra-hydrocannabinol (THC), the main active compound of cannabis. He also identified the structure of Cannabidiol (CBD) an important component of marijuana. Recent studies have shown that CBD turns off the gene that causes cancer cells to metastasize. Later, Gupta saw first-hand a five-year-old in Colorado, who was suffering from hundreds of seizures a week, find dramatic relief by using a tincture derived from marijuana. This tincture was high in CBD, and low in THC. According to Gupta: “she was having seizures hundreds of times a week and her use of marijuana reduced that to no more than once a week. She had gone from virtually catatonic to a bubbly young girl.” After talking to multiple families, hearing anecdotal stories, reviewing the studies, Gupta concluded that cannabis “can help those with pain-related maladies and seizures.”

Because cannabis is listed as a Schedule 1 substance, there is almost no funding for studies on the medicinal benefits of the plant. If cannabis were legalized throughout the country, it has been estimated that it would replace up to 20% of all pharmaceutical prescriptions. That would put a dent in the bottom line of these pharmaceutical companies, and may be why politicians are being pressured to keep it in the Schedule 1 category.

When cannabis was decriminalized in Colorado and the state of Washington, the images shown on the nightly news were of mostly young people, more than a few with long hair, hippy looking, smoking pot in parks and celebrating their newfound freedom. No images of cancer patients using marijuana to relieve pain, or mature adults imbibing in the privacy of their homes. Based on the raucous pictures from the media, the argument could be made that we really don’t need ‘a nation going to pot’ as California’s Governor Jerry Brown so inarticulately declared. These were recreational users though, and like alcohol, recreational use needs a strict set of standards. The other side of the cannabis coin is the medical use of marijuana. Unfortunately, this arena is being virtually ignored by U.S. government.

In a documentary on marijuana (see: Dr. David Bearman, M.D. cites that cannabis is mentioned for its medicinal properties in every major Materia Medica (body of collected medical knowledge) that has ever been written. From 1842 to 1900, cannabis made up half of all medicine sold in the U.S.. And, in the early 1900’s companies like Eli Lilly, Parke-Davis and Squibb marketed preparations of cannabis. However, by the 1930’s marijuana fell in disfavor, partly due to the Marijuana Tax Act, movies like Reefer Madness and a political climate that began to view marijuana as a dangerous drug rather than medicine.


The Schizophrenic Waltz

The Federal government has made cannabis use illegal, while many states have made its use legal. The government states there are no medical benefits to marijuana, while a world-famous neurosurgeon (Gupta) witnessed firsthand the miraculous medicinal benefits of cannabis. The government has spent billions of dollars incarcerating individuals for marijuana use (over 650,000 arrests for possession in 2013), while our Executive branch leader, President Obama, has publicly stated that he views marijuana as “no more harmful than alcohol.” But, in the U.S., there are approximately 88,000 deaths attributable to excessive alcohol use each year, while no one has ever died from using marijuana. These contradictions have increasingly spurred public debate.

Comedian Steve Martin expressed this cannabis confusion best when asked about marijuana: “I used to smoke marijuana. But I’ll tell you something: I would only smoke it in the late evening. Oh, occasionally the early evening, but usually the late evening — or the mid-evening. Just the early evening, mid-evening and late evening. Occasionally, early afternoon, early mid-afternoon, or perhaps the late-mid-afternoon. Oh, sometimes the early-mid-late-early morning . . . . But never at dusk!”

Americans are increasingly aware that the benefits of cannabis can no longer be ignored. A recent Gallop poll shows that for the first time, the majority (58%) favor legalizing marijuana.

Cannabis is — from the movie Botany of Desire — “speaking to us about its potential. It’s prodding us on to new discoveries for its use.” Let’s listen . . .

Robert Ross can be reached by e-mail at:

Copyright 2014 by Robert Ross, all rights reserved

(Writer’s note: In the coming months I will be doing a series of Reflexion’s columns on Cannabis, from medical uses to the politics of this amazing plant.)