A Legal Smoke? – Modern Marijuana Research

Modern research suggests that cannabis is a valuable aid in the treatment of a wide range of ailments. Marijuana’s therapeutic uses are well-documented in modern scientific literature. The studies arrived at

the conclusion that marijuana provides symptomatic relief for a number of medical conditions, including nausea and vomiting, stimulating appetite, promoting weight gain, and diminishing intraocular pressure from glaucoma. There is also evidence that smoked marijuana reduces muscle spasticity from spinal cord injuries and multiple sclerosis, and diminishes tremors in multiple sclerosis patients. Patients and physicians have also reported that smoked marijuana provides relief from migraine headaches, depression, seizures, insomnia and chronic pain, among other conditions (Medical Marijuana Reports). In several states, marijuana is legal for use in specific cases, but it is still illegal by federal law. “Why would they want to authorize behavior under state law that is still a violation of federal law?” he says. “It endangers a population, to me. It gives the green light on the one hand and a go-to-jail ticket on the other” (Stein 57). In the eight states where medical marijuana is legal, people using legally prescribed marijuana should not have to worry about the breaking the federal law and risk being arrested. Patients using prescription marijuana are using it to make their lives better. If patients have to worry about being arrested for smoking prescribed marijuana, they might as well buy the drug illegally off the street.

Until 1937, marijuana was legal in the United Stated for all purposes. Twenty seven medicines containing marijuana were legally available in the United States at that time. Many of the medicines were made by well-known pharmaceutical businesses that still exist today, including Squibb, now known as Bristol-Myers Squibb, and Eli Lilly. The Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 federally prohibited marijuana. Dr. William C. Woodward of the American Medical Association opposed the act, testifying that prohibition would ultimately prevent the medicinal uses of marijuana (Medical Marijuana Briefing Paper).

Fifty-six percent of voters approved Proposition 215 on November 5, 1996. The law took effect the following day in California. It removes state-level criminal penalties on the use, possession and cultivation of marijuana by patients who possess a written or oral recommendation from their physician that he or she would benefit from medical marijuana. Patients diagnosed with any debilitating illness where the medical use of marijuana has been “deemed appropriate and has been recommended by a physician” are afforded legal protection under this act. Conditions typically covered by the law include arthritis, cachexia, cancer, chronic pain, HIV or AIDS, epilepsy, migraine, and multiple sclerosis, although, patients with several other conditions may have legal protection for using marijuana. Right now, there are no set limits regarding the amount of marijuana patients may possess and/or grow are provided by this act. The law does not establish a confidential state-run patient registry, but pending legislation in this year’s assembly seeks to create a voluntary patient registry (Medical Marijuana Reports).

Federal agents in September busted the Wo/Men’s Alliance for medicinal marijuana in an early morning raid. The farm owners, who were growing pot legally under California law, were arrested by the federal agents and taken to a federal building in San Jose for breaking federal law. They also held a paraplegic resident at the farm for hours. “I opened my eyes to see five federal agents pointing assault rifles at my head.’Get your hands over your head. Get up. Get up.’ I took the respirator off my face, and I explained to them that I’m paralyzed,” said Suzanne Pheil, 44, who is disabled by the effects of post polio syndrome (Stein 60). This story shows how problematic this issue can be. The story was publicized everywhere and had positive effects for the pro-pot people and essentially made the federal agents look unethical. There were many who were displeased and concerned after hearing this story. This includes the attorney general of California, Bill Lockyer, who sent an acrimonious letter to DEA chief Asa Hutchinson, who wrote back saying federal law allows the feds to seize pot. San Jose police Chief William Lansdowne was so annoyed by the raid that he withdrew his officers from the local DEA task force. Even Governor Gray Davis, who has been quiet on the marijuana issue, expressed concern over the feds’ bust (Stein 59).

“In an era of privatization, it’s shocking that the government insists on a monopoly so that it can choose not to provide marijuana to projects it doesn’t like,” says Rick Doblin, founder of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, a nonprofit pharmaceutical firm. Marijuana remains the only drug that researchers must acquire directly from the feds. Rick Doblin also says that the government says it wants more studies, but they make it harder to get marijuana than any other drug for research (Cloud 62). One of the major conspiracy theories of the pro-legalization movement is that the government is keeping pot illegal so that it can maintain its giant drug war bureaucracy. Also, there are also many politicians under the hand of the pharmaceutical industry that fear marijuana is such good medicine that their own products will be hurt. Democratic congressman Barney Frank of Massachusetts claims that the war on drugs is really the war against the other, “Alcohol does more damage in many areas if society that drugs, particularly marijuana, but we treat marijuana like it is much worse, and that’s because it’s associated with the counterculture” (Stein 57). The pro-legalization forces also believe that the right wing of the Republican Party connects drug use with sin, radicalism, and the failure of the family.

Although the use of medical marijuana has proven to have its benefits with few side effects, benefit for ailing individuals is still a very controversial topic because of the illegality of street marijuana. Many out there disagree with the fact that the medical use of marijuana has benefits that outweigh the risks. Most medical research that has been done on Marijuana is unclear or biased. The Journal of Clinical Pharmacology and the National Institute on Drug Abuse has done substantial research that was brought up in a recent Time magazine article. The Journal gave Time an extensive review that will not satisfy side in the drug war. You won’t find clear evidence that pot is good or evil, but the research gives facts on some of the most important questions surrounding the drug (Cloud 63). Here are some of the straight facts on marijuana. You cannot overdose on THC, the smile producing chemical in pot, while you can overdose on many prescription drugs on the market today. Marijuana may directly affect the immune system, since one of the body’s two known receptors for cannabinoids is located in immune cells. But the nature of the effect is unclear. At the University of San Francisco, a study done on volunteered HIV patients found that short-term cannabis use does not substantially raise viral loads of HIV patients and the participants of the study enjoyed significantly higher increases in their lymphocytes (cells that fight disease) than those that took a placebo (Cloud 64). Any type of smoker should worry about lung cancer, but it is not clear that THC is carcinogenic The latest research suggests that THC may have a dual effect, promoting tumors by increasing free radicals and simultaneously protecting against tumors by playing a beneficial role in a process known as programmed cell death (Cloud 63). About nine percent of heavy pot smokers develop dependence and suffer withdrawal symptoms such as anxiety, difficulty sleeping, or stomach pain. By comparison, fifteen percent of alcohol users become addicted, and twenty three percent of heroin users become addicts. The Journal of the American Medical Association published a study of 102 near-daily marijuana users and found that generally the longer someone has smoked marijuana, the worse their memory and attention span were. But the participants who had used pot for an average of ten years did not do as badly as expected. In fact, they only did significantly worse than nonusers on two out of the forty tests they were given. Scientists cannot agree that marijuana causes memory problems because the long-term users may have been worse off in the first place. These facts, done by the American Medical Association (AMA) clearly dispel some myths and beliefs about the harmfulness of pot which discourages the positive effects marijuana can have in the medical field.

Irvin Rosenfeld suffers from a rare disease, multiple congenital cartilaginous exocytose which causes tumors on all the long bones of his body. A second disease he suffers from, a variant of pseudo hyperparathyroidism, makes it possible for any one of his two hundred or so tumors to turn malignant. For nineteen years, he tried to fight the agony of his disease with heavy narcotics, but they just left him groggy and at times he would wake up screaming in pain. A friend got him to try marijuana to keep him away from the stronger drugs, and he has now been smoking twelve joints a day for the past thirty one years. Rosenfeld still gets what he calls “his medicine” from a hospital pharmacy in a tin container and uses it to control the pain that has tortured him since his childhood. In the two decades since Rosenfeld obtained his prescription for pot, he’s been hassled by authorities, had a gun put to his temple by police and been arrested, always to be released. His smoking is perfectly legal. He keeps several joints in a plastic baggie that has a prescription label on it, similar to any found on plastic pill bottles (Germanotta). Once every six months, his doctor must fill out a report on the effects of the drug. His prescription was given as part of a research project looking into whether the marijuana is an effective painkiller and muscle relaxant. Last May, he and three others in the program were given a battery of tests to see how the long-term use had affected them. His lungs and immune system were normal, Rosenfeld said. Rosenfeld is part of a marijuana club, which supports those who legally smoke marijuana, is an organization that is emphasized by him because of how it has helped cancer and AIDS patients. He agrees that without a federal program like this, people will be forced to go to the street sources for marijuana or they will have to avoid the drug.

“The government is saying there are no studies proving the medical benefits,” Abrams fumed in 1996. “But they’re also not letting studies be conducted” (Cloud 65). Why do the feds spend so much time and effort towards regulating the use of medical marijuana? I believe most people would agree that there are more serious issues in society that federal agents should dedicate their time to. Hypothetically, say that someone is growing pot legally in California, and they are not selling it on the streets, they are not breaking any state laws. If the person growing the marijuana is supplying it to patients who have an illness that makes it necessary for them to get a prescription for marijuana, they still are not breaking any state laws. They are accommodating the patients’ illnesses potentially aiding them in living longer, happier lives. This may not have been such a controversial topic if the government had done more studies on medical marijuana in the past, but strangely marijuana is the most difficult drug to get possession of for medical studies on. The National Institute of Health (NIH) has not done a study on marijuana in two decades, and the government started doing studies in 1997 after doing nothing since the eighties. The fact of the matter is that scientists are having a very difficult time getting a Federal Drug Administration (FDA) approval on getting a study done showing the benefits of medical marijuana. For example, in 1999, Paul Consroe, a professor of pharmacology at the University of Arizona, failed to win FDA approval for a clinical trial of marijuana for aids and cancer wasting. He believes the FDA turned him down because of political pressure (Cloud 64). Consroe added that if a researcher wanted to do a study on the harmful effects, they can get all the money they want.

In the end, federal law overrides state law without question, but what will it take for seriously ill patients to use medical marijuana to treat their ailments? Will Americans ever legitimately use medical marijuana without fear of imprisonment? All fifty states could legalize the use of medicinal marijuana, but as long as the federal law still contradicts the state law, this issue will be a never ending controversy. If federal agents are going to arrest people who are legally smoking marijuana by state laws, they might as well make marijuana completely illegal. If the federal law does not change in favor of medical marijuana, then what is the point in changing the state law.