Oglesby: Medical marijuana benefits must be recognized

Brian Oglesby

Brian OglesbyOne of the most controversial legal topics of today is the decision of whether or not to legalize marijuana for medical purposes, recreational purposes, both or neither.

The most devastating consequence of marijuana prohibition is the denial of medical marijuana to suffering patients who could be benefiting from its use as a therapeutic agent. Whether it be temporarily relieving pain or permanently curing ailments, there is scientific evidence that proves beneficial uses of marijuana in modern medicine.

Components of the cannabis plant can be used in different ways to help patients who suffer from Crohn’s disease, epilepsy, HIV, dementia, glaucoma, neuropathic pain, multiple sclerosis, cancer, tumors, PTSD, chronic pain, depression, nausea, arthritis and much more.

Marijuana has been used as a medicine for thousands of years and only in 1937 with the passing of the Marijuana Tax Act was it made illegal and the distribution of medical marijuana terminated. And only since 1970, with the establishment of the Controlled Substances Act, has marijuana been declared a schedule I drug, meaning it has no accepted medical use. Many legitimate studies today continue to deny the federal government’s stance and support the fact that cannabis does indeed have medicinal value.

Even the Drug Enforcement Administration’s then-chief administrative law judge, Francis Young, recognized this in 1988 as he suggested that marijuana be moved from a schedule I to a schedule II drug to make it available as a legal medicine. In his proposal he stated: “Marijuana has been accepted as capable of relieving distress of great numbers of very ill people, and doing so with safety under medical supervision. It would be unreasonable, arbitrary and capricious for the DEA to continue to stand between those sufferers and the benefits of this substance in light of the evidence in this record.”

Currently, more than 60 U.S. and international health organizations including the American Cancer Society, the American Medical Association, the American Public Health Association and the Federation of American Scientists support giving patients access to medicinal marijuana under a physician’s supervision. Their decision is most likely based on the research and findings on certain cannabinoids.

Cannabinoids are the chemical compounds in marijuana that interact with cannabinoid receptors throughout our body and have a certain effect on us. Cannabidiol is the second most abundant active cannabinoid in the marijuana plant after the more commonly known delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC. THC is known to produce the psychoactive effects or “high” from marijuana while cannabidiol is devoid of the psychoactive effects and may therefore be a more attractive therapeutic agent.

Sara Ward, a research professor at Temple, has done several studies on cannabidiol. One of her studies tested the ability of cannabidiol to relieve chemo-induced neuropathic pain. In the study she found that cannabidiol was profoundly protective against chemotherapy induced neuropathic pain and explained that, “If we treat animals with cannabidiol they never develop the neuropathic pain state that commonly results from chemotherapy drugs.”

As an extension of that project, one of Ward’s collaborators has also looked at the effects of cannabidiol on cancer cells and he has shown that cannabidiol can inhibit breast cancer cell proliferation and metastasis in an animal model.

In addition to having no accepted medical use, the two other criteria for a schedule I drug are a lack of accepted safety and a high potential for abuse.

Marijuana has a remarkable safety record causing a whopping total of zero direct deaths historically. Peanuts kill more people than marijuana. The estimated lethal amount for humans based on studies done on animals is so high that users cannot possibly achieve it. Essentially, it is impossible to die from marijuana consumption.

A UCLA study found no association between marijuana use and lung cancer and also suggested that marijuana may even have some protective affect. But for those who are concerned about possible health risks of smoking the plant, there are alternative ways to consume marijuana and still receive the medical benefits.

A method known as vaporizing drastically reduces or eliminates harmful smoke toxins that may be irritating and unhealthy. There are also edible goods, lozenges, tinctures, lollipops and many more ways to gain the medical benefits without smoking the plant.

Some people argue that marijuana cannot meet standards for drug purity, potency and quality control. This is not true. We have the technology and knowledge to test marijuana to determine cannabinoid levels, pesticides, molds, heavy metals and more.

The potential addictiveness of marijuana is very low, nowhere near the potential addictiveness of some already legal medications. Those who argue that marijuana is addictive have to understand that there are different types and definitions of addiction. While marijuana may be addicting to some, it is a manageable psychological addiction and not an uncontrollable physical addiction that can have severe withdrawal symptoms. According to a 1994 study, only about 9 percent of marijuana users are considered addicted, hardly a “high potential for abuse.”

Of course, traditional medications work fine for many patients and they have no need for medical marijuana. However, for some seriously ill patients, traditional medications cannot provide relief for them in ways that medicinal cannabis does. These patients should not be seen as criminals or forced to suffer needlessly in pain.

Hundreds of people gathered at Sixth and Chestnut streets at a Philly NORML – National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws – event called “Smoke Down Prohibition” last month.

I had the opportunity to speak with a few medical marijuana cardholders there and ask them questions about their experiences using marijuana as a medicine.

“Marijuana reduces my spasticity and allows me to not take pharmaceutical medications,” said Jim Ross, a cardholder from New Jersey. “It allows me to be a father and live a normal, healthy life to the best of my ability and just be a normal person.”

When I asked him how marijuana as a medicine compares to other medications he has been prescribed, he said: “I can function normally. When I get out of bed I’m not sick. I don’t need to smoke marijuana like I needed to take Percocet or I needed to take Xanax. I know when I feel my body not acting right and I need to medicate. It doesn’t consume my life.”

Some opponents believe that marijuana makes you become paranoid. Yes, this has happened to people. But one must understand why. This paranoia usually exists due to the fact that marijuana is illegal and the user may think about the illegality and his or her possession of the marijuana.

If first-time users could be in a medically supervised environment rather than secretly and illegally consuming marijuana, these instances of adverse reactions would most likely occur far less. Also, a new patient should obviously not be given a high dose or potency for their first use. A physician should advise a correct potency and dosage and the patient should follow this recommendation.

To top it all off, the federal government actually supplies four people with medical marijuana under the Compassionate Investigational New Drug Program. This is a government-run program that began in 1976 and is closed to new entrants. This is an absolute contradiction of the current federal legal status of medical marijuana and completely defies the federal government’s own laws.

There is substantial evidence at this point to remove marijuana from the schedule I category and allow doctors to legally prescribe it to suffering patients who qualify. There may still be a lot of research that needs to be done before we can fully understand how the cannabinoids from marijuana work in our body, but to say that marijuana has no medical value is an ignorant statement.

How many more studies must be conducted? How many more facts must be proven? How many more discoveries must be made? How much longer should people suffer until the government decides to care about people’s lives?

How can the government decide what can and can’t go into our bodies, what medicine works for us, makes us feel better and make laws that prevent us from using it? It’s offensive to me and it should be to you as well. It’s a human rights issue and our natural rights are being violated.

Medical marijuana patients should not have to worry about being arrested or going to jail or suffering any other legal penalties for using something that makes them feel better. They should not be viewed as criminals because they found something that can relieve them of their suffering. Eighteen states have already realized these absurdities and allow the use of marijuana as a medicine. Hopefully this will pave the way for the rest of America.

Brian Oglesby can be reached at brian.oglesby@temple.edu. 

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