Medical Marijuana One of the most controversial issues in the United States is over medical marijuana. Many experiments test the validity of the drug as a medicine, and results of these experiments receive much praise but also some critique. The DEA and the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) are battling over the issue. The underlying matter that cannot be ignored is that marijuana proves to be a useful medication for many patients, especially those with wasting diseases such as AIDS and cancer. In 1996 California passed Proposition 215, which allowed the use of medical marijuana (4444).
Since then, six other states have made medical marijuana legal; Alaska, Arizona, Hawaii, Maine, Oregon, and Washington. Santa Cruz in California has gone even further, “allowing the medical use of marijuana with a doctor’s note certifying that the patient has a condition for which marijuana is considered helpful, including AIDS, cancer, multiple sclerosis, glaucoma, anorexia, chronic pain, arthritis, and spastic diseases (22222).” Santa Cruz law allows growing marijuana so it may be sold for the cost of production. This way, medical users do not have to resort to buying at street prices. The government made it a requirement that all medical studies on marijuana be paid for by scarce grant money from the National Institute of Health (NIH). In recent years, scientists have tried to persuade the NIH to grant them money for medical studies on marijuana, only to be turned down. Only three studies have been approved by the NIH.
On May 22, 1999 the Clinton Administration loosened that restriction, allowing researchers to buy Government-grown marijuana for their research, as long as they can fund themselves. Chuck Blanchard, who is the chief counsel for McCaffrey (director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy) says, “Before, the problem was if you wanted marijuana, you had to not only show that it was high-quality research, you had to show that it was more important than other competing applications for NIH funding. Now, as long as you are willing to show that it is high-quality research and also provide your own funding, you can have access to medical marijuana (66666)”. The decision of the Clinton Administration came two months after a government-sponsored study concluded that “the active ingredients in marijuana, called cannabinoids, appeared useful for treating pain, nausea, and severe weight loss in AIDS patients (666666).” No evidence of marijuana being a “gateway drug” was found. The study also came up with some surprising results. It found that treating glaucoma through marijuana was not as useful as we thought.
The drug does reduce eye pressure, but the effects are short-lived. The same study found that marijuana was effective in relieving muscle spasms due to multiple sclerosis (888888). At the 13th International AIDS Conference on July 13, 2000, Dr. Donald Abrams of the University of California released the results of the $1 million study of marijuana on AIDS patients. Abram’s concern was “to determine whether the chemical components of marijuana in any way interfered with the body’s ability to break down components of protease inhibitors”.
Protease inhibitors are relatively new antiviral drugs that help HIV patients retain a healthy immune system. Abram found that there was no interference between marijuana and the protease inhibitors in any of the 62 patients. Also, Abram’s experiment found that marijuana increased the appetite of the HIV patients. The patients who smoked marijuana (three times a day for 21 days) gained an average of 7.7 pounds, while patients who took Marinol (pill containing active ingredients of marijuana including THC) gained an average of 7 pounds. After the experiment, Dr. Abrams said, “It’s exciting.
It’s historic. It confirms that all the states that have allowed patients to use medical marijuana have not made a serious mistake.” SABIN Other studies have found that marijuana indeed has medicinal value, as well as some risk. “The US National Institutes of Health and an affiliate of the National Academy of Sciences have concluded that the active ingredients in marijuana can ease the pain, nausea, and vomiting of cancer and AIDS. It also is prescribed for certain glaucoma patients (555555).” The NIH, the Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research, and San Mateo County will all be sponsoring future medical marijuana studies. One study has found that smoking marijuana increases the risk of a heart attack. Researchers discovered that the risk of heart attack was the highest in the first hour after smoking, dropping to twice the normal risk in the second hour, and then returning to normal quickly after (77777). Dr.
Murray Mittleman, the head researcher of the study, went on to say, “The risk of a heart attack for a 50-year-old otherwise healthy man after smoking a single marijuana cigarette would be about 10 in 1 million.” There are many conflicting viewpoints on marijuana’s worth. Dale Gieringer, California director of NORML, says “.. that marijuana is safe and effective and that the government hasn’t a leg to stand on by preventing its medical use (111111).” Dr. Billy Martin, chief of pharmacology at the Medical College of Vermont says, “We lack evidence that there is something unique about marijuana, other than an impressive number of anecdotal reports (44444).” Dr. Lester Grinspoon, chairman of the NORML Foundation says, “We’re going to have to go through this business of doing these studies.
They won’t prove anything that clinicians who have paid attention to this don’t already know(444444).” The National Academy of Sciences and the National Institutes if Health both concluded that “there is evidence that marijuana can be useful in treating some patients who have not responded well to other therapies (555555).” Dr. Igor Grant, head of UCSD’s Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research brings up a good point, “It seems that if these things are indeed useful, we would have to find a way to deliver them in a manner that is prescribable (44444).” He goes on to say that marijuana cigarettes will probably never hit the shelves of pharmacies. Experts at the Institute of Medicine warn us that the benefits of smoking marijuana are limited because the smoke itself is toxic, even more so than tobacco (8888888). Alternative methods of delivering of the drug are already being researched. Researchers at Albany College of Pharmacy, led by Dr. Audra Stinchcomb are trying to develop a marijuana patch (similar to the nicotine patch) as an alternative to smoking medical marijuana.
NORML has exclusively researched alternate ways of using marijuana, such as pills, suppositories, eye and ear drops, and maybe even a marijuana vapor. Allen St. Pierre, executive director of NORML admits, “However, smoking is a faster way to get the drug into the system, an important factor in controlling nausea (555555).” Pierre later says in the AP report, “The American Cancer Society has always been on record against people smoking tobacco and marijuana. This is a way to assuage opponents (555555).” I believe that medical marijuana should be legalized in all states. Although smoking marijuana may be harmful and risky, there is obvious medicinal value.
Alternatives to smoking medical marijuana are currently being researched to provide a healthier method of medication. Marijuana is made up of hundreds of cannabinoids, many of which have been proven helpful for patients with severe illnesses, such as cancer and AIDS. Once the federal ban on marijuana is lifted, we will finally discover the true medical value of marijuana. Bibliography Nieves, Evelyn “California Inn Seeking Users of Marijuana as a Medicine” New York Times 20 April 2000: A12 Johnson D. Michael, PharmD Heriza J. Thomas, MD Dennis St.
Clark “How to Spot Illicit Drug Use in Your Patients” Clinical Articles 106.4 (1999): 199 Russell, Sabin “Study Finds Pot Safe for AIDS Patients; Government Funding for Research a First” San Francisco Chronicle 14 July 2000: A1 Government Essays.