Wednesday, December 12, 2007

About Our Blog

Introduction: Medicinal marijuana elicits a wide variety of reactions, reflective of the controversy surrounding it. Scientific data proving effectiveness is debatable, and some states are convinced that medicinal marijuana should be an option, while others make no distinction between illegal marijuana use and medicinal marijuana. The U.S. history of medicinal marijuana is full of tensions between states and the federal government, and people caught by the federal government in states that allow medicinal marijuana are subject to full prosecution, raising questions about the autonomy of states versus the federal government. Some people are worried that by allowing medicinal marijuana, it opens the gateway for the legalization of all marijuana use, which is what they're really against. For some, the costs of legalizing medicinal marijuana aren't worth the benefits, which aren't very well known; personal accounts of reduced pain from marijuana don't qualify as conclusive evidence, and it's very hard to do a wide-scale controlled experiment with an illegal substance. Information conflicts down to the very basic facts of the benefits of medicinal marijuana on certain symptoms, so it's important to know the biases of the sources.

Purpose: The purpose of this blog is to gather information of medicinal marijuana use by documenting the potential uses, history and legal controversy surrounding the topic. It may be obvious, but we’ve drawn our own conclusions after reading these articles. Each comes from a reputable source and contains what each considers to be accurate information. As you read this blog, realize that our critiques of articles are biased, but hopefully there is enough information for you to draw your own conclusions about the legalization of medicinal marijuana.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Final Summary

Marijuana has been used for medicinal purposes for over four thousand years. Although the biological effects weren't known back then, it simply was a cure because it made people feel better. It was used as a medicine in the United States until 1937 when a new tax fee led to its discontinued use. In 1972, marijuana was categorized as a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act meaning that the government considered marijuana to have “no accepted medical use in treatment in the United States”. The changing public sentiment, viewing marijuana from a beneficial medicine to a destructive drug, led to many of the policies that restricted its use. The safety and efficacy of medicinal marijuana is still controversial because of those policies that restrict research. By making medicinal marijuana illegal, rumors, conspiracy theories and just plain false scientific facts have merit, because the public doesn't know what the truth is. In an attempt to stop medicinal marijuana, the federal government's prohibitive actions have fueled confusion, which is a good atmosphere for public deception by biased organizations.

However, science has tried to put an end to this confusion: Over the years and especially in the last decade, the list of potential therapeutic uses of marijuana has been growing. Medical marijuana can be used to treat refractory neurological symptoms, pain associated with multiple sclerosis (MS) or spinal cord injury, chronic neuralgic pain, AIDS-related anorexia, HIV medication induced nausea and vomiting, Crohn’s disease, and Tourette's syndrome. Other palliative effects include insomnia relief, mood elevation, appetite stimulation, and analgesia. Beneficial effects of marijuana have been reported for cancer-associated anorexia, delayed chemo or radiotherapy induced nausea, and vomiting. Cannabinoids have been shown to not only protect the brain but also prevent the normal inflammatory response caused by Alzheimer’s disease. With emerging facts like these, it’s harder for sources doubting the medical effect of marijuana to gain support.

The results of these studies have led to drugs including the active products in medicinal marijuana. In the US, there are only two FDA-approved medicinal cannabis products available, Marinol and Cesamet. The Investigative New Drug Application of a third medicinal cannabis product Sativex, used to treat pain and sleep disorders, was accepted in April 2006. Even with the approval of cannabis-containing drugs, the federal court has maintained the position of denying marijuana for medicinal use. In June 2005 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 6-3 that federal laws against marijuana, including its medical use, are valid. There is ample dissension with that ruling: currently, twelve states have legalized marijuana for medicinal purposes. Perhaps under a less conservative government, policies will change to catch up to the progressive environment of the United States—it's very hard to justify why medicinal marijuana is federally illegal, when states allow it and developed drugs show the efficacy of marijuana as a medicine.

The core question surrounding this blog is: Should marijuana be a medical option? If it wasn't clear already, we think that it should be. Numerous articles support its efficacy as a potential therapeutic drug, and many of the sentiments against medicinal marijuana come from the fear that marijuana is a destructive, illegal substance. Marijuana shouldn't be feared, it should be understood. By disregarding its use for medicinal therapy because of its historical implications, for example viewing it as a gateway drug to more addictive substances, many sick people are denied access to something that could drastically improve their quality of life. Marijuana can be used medically to reduce the pain and suffering associated with many debilitating diseases that afflict mankind, such as HIV, pain, insomnia, Alzheimer’s, and cancer. If both the physician and patient agree that marijuana can be a treatment for certain diseases and conditions, it should be an available treatment option. Many physicians believe that marijuana is the best available treatment for some of their patients. In a November 2003 study, 75% of those surveyed said they would favor use of marijuana under a doctor's prescription. We're not advocating the legalization of all marijuana, which would be a more controversial topic, but rather arguing that those with seriously debilitating diseases shouldn't be punished through suffering because of our, somewhat irrational fear, that the nation will have a bigger drug problem. The future for medicinal marijuana is looking bright—with so many states in favor of it, and upcoming elections, it may be federally legalized under a less conservative government. Legalization would help the drug trafficking situation, supplying a safe and reliable source of marijuana to those who need it, and competing with the medicinal marijuana portion of illegal drug business. Hopefully, word will get out to those people afflicted with the terrible aforementioned diseases that medicinal marijuana can help, and they'll be able to obtain it to relieve their suffering.

Student Knowledge/Opinion about Medical Marijuana:

In our addition to our blog, we decided to go out and get a sense for what the students at Brown knew about medical marijuana and how they felt about it.

Each student was asked the following four questions:

1. What do you know about medical marijuana?

2. What is your opinion on the use of marijuana as medical therapy?

3. Is the use of medical marijuana legal in the state of Rhode Island?

4. Would you use legal medical marijuana if you needed it?

Monday, November 19, 2007

2007 - Medical Cannabis in Oncology

"Medical Cannabis in Oncology"

I came across this article while I was searching on PubMed on the Brown University Library Website. It was published in the European Journal of Cancer on September 19, 2007. The content of this article has a great impact on the public perception of this technology. The use of medical marijuana (cannabis) for medical and social purposes has been debated for years. While interest in marijuana in the 1980s and 1990s focused on preventing its recreational use, attention is now being turned to its clinical and medicinal uses.

Patients and doctors have resorted to medical marijuana when conventional treatments were unsuccessful or deficient for the past four thousand years. Nonetheless, the safety and efficacy of cannabis remains controversial. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not support the use of smoked marijuana for medical purposes on the ground that no sound scientific studies, animal, or human data support its safety or efficacy. However, a growing number of U.S. states have passed legislation making medical cannabis available upon doctor’s recommendations. Medical marijuana can be used to treat refractory neurological symptoms, pain associated with multiple sclerosis (MS) or spinal cord injury, chronic neuralgic pain, aids-related anorexia, HIV medication induced nausea and vomiting, Crohn’s disease, and Tourette syndrome. Other palliative effects include insomnia relief, mood elevation, appetite stimulation, and analgesia.

Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the United States, and one of the top ten leading causes of death in the world. Beneficial effects of marijuana have been reported for cancer-associated anorexia, delayed chemo or radiotherapy induced nausea, and vomiting. If there is a reason to approve the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes, in the public’s eye, there is not one better than for the treatment of cancer.

Much of the existing controversy surrounding the positive effects of medicinal marijuana is due to the lack of well-designed (randomized, double-blind, and placebo-controlled) and adequately powered clinical trials. The majority of clinical trials done so far have evaluated a wide range of different cannabis products, varying in dose, cannabinoid content, quality, and route of administration, in a heterogeneous patient population. Hence, the existing clinical data is inappropriate for comparison, thus making it unable to draw sound scientific conclusions.

One explanation the article gives for the lack of clinical trials is the fact that the current legal status of medicinal marijuana differs around the world and within the nation. In most countries, medicinal cannabis is illegal. As a result, registered standardized products are limited or unavailable. In the US, there are only two FDA-approved medicinal cannabis products available, Marinol and Cesamet. The Investigative New Drug Application of a third medicinal cannabis product, Sativex, was accepted in April 2006.

In the Netherlands, however, the policy surrounding the medicinal use of marijuana is quite disparate from that in the United States. Since September 2003, a legal medicinal cannabis product, constituting the whole range of cannabinoids and meeting pharmaceutical quality standards, has been available for pre-clinical and clinical research, drug formulation development, and on prescription for patients. This change in policy was expected to cause major changes leading to the general acceptance of marijuana for medicinal purposes, especially in treating cancer. However, four years of clinical experience with legal, standardized medicinal cannabis in the Netherlands has not led to the desired results.

A gap between the medicinal marijuana proponents and opponents still exists. Contrary to what was expected, only a minority of patients resorts to physician prescribed cannabis distributed by their community pharmacy. Preclinical research with crude cannabis varieties is ongoing in the Netherlands, but far fewer than expected. The Dutch Minister of Public Health, who was responsible for the initiated policy, decided to guarantee continued distribution and availability of legal medicinal cannabis until the end of 2007, but a renewed decision to keep medicinal marijuana legal in the Netherlands will depend on registration of the only one drug derived from cannabis varieties in the Netherlands. Thus, while many proponents of medical marijuana viewed the Netherlands as the leader in changes to medical marijuana policies, the efforts to make marijuana accepted in the medical community in Netherlands have been unsuccessful.

The percent of cancer patients that use legal cannabis fluctuates between 8% and 23%. According to the article, cancer-associated use of medicinal marijuana seems to be especially low. The majority of patients still acquire medicinal cannabis through illegal distributors, “coffee-shops”, or by growing at home despite its legalization. Thus, firm scientific evidence has not been found and the controversy around medicinal marijuana still carries on.


Sunday, November 18, 2007

2007 - Cannabis, Pain, and Sleep

“Cannabis, Pain, and Sleep: Lessons from Therapeutic Clinical Trials of Sativex, a Cannabis-Based Medicine.”

The article “Cannabis, Pain, and Sleep: Lessons from Therapeutic Clinical Trials of Sativex, a Cannabis-Based Medicine” was published in Chemistry & Biodiversity in 2007. I came across this article while searching on PubMed through the Brown University Website. The content of this article is instrumental in establishing marijuana’s use for medicinal purposes. In another article “Medicinal cannabis in oncology” written about earlier, the medicinal uses of marijuana for cancer did not have enough evidence in clinical trials. However, this article presents evidence supporting the medicinal uses of marijuana to treat pain and sleep disorders.

Sativex is the world's first pharmaceutical prescription medicine derived from the cannabis plant, which is a major step in pushing for the legalization of marijuana for medicinal purposes. Sativex, created by GW Pharmaceuticals and marketed in conjunction with Bayer, is a combination of plant-derived delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). While the article “Medicinal cannabis in oncology” argues that there is not enough clinical evidence to support the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes, experience to date with Sativex in a number of Phase I-III studies in 2000 subjects with 1000 patient years of exposure show marked improvement in subjective sleep parameters in patients with a wide variety of pain conditions indlucing multiple sclerosis, peripheral neuropathic pain, intractable cancer pain, and rheumatoid arthritis. Sativex patients and their caregivers have noted to their physicians how the medicine has changed their lives through its ability to allow them more restful sleep, increase their daytime level of function, and markedly improve their quality of life.

In 2005, Canada was the first country in the world to license Sativex, the first plant-based cannabinoid pharmaceutical medicine in the modern era. This approval has huge implications for the future of cannabis law in the US. The Canadian approval of Sativex is noteworthy because it was marijuana plants themselves, not a chemical factory that produced the THC and CBD in Sativex. Almost always, drugs based on primarily natural non-chemical plant derivates fail to get regulatory approval because regulators have an arbitrary source material standard that essentially excludes natural extracts. The pharmaceutical industry and regulatory agencies prefer machine-made drugs. The philosophical underpinnings of modern drug medicine protocols assume that natural substances are substandard, irregular, and hazardous.

In February 2007, GW and Otsuka Pharmaceutical announced an exclusive agreement to develop and market Sativex in the US. Sativex has received permission from the FDA to enter directly into late stage Phase III trials in the US. Approval of Sativex provides more credibility to the idea that cannabis is a legitimate medicine. If plant-based cannabinoids are medicine, this supports the argument that marijuana itself does not belong in Schedule One status, where all drugs are assumed to be without medical value. As Sativex has shown, marijuana clearly has remarkable medical value.


Monday, November 12, 2007

2005 - Marijuana as treatment for Alzheimer’s Disease

“Marijuana may block Alzheimer's”

This is a very interesting article that I found in the BBC News’ official website. It was first published in February 2005, and its importance for this blog not only lies in its relation to the use of marijuana as medicinal therapy. The article also touches specifically on cannabinoid’s effect on Alzheimer’s, a disease whose effects and impacts have been previously discussed in class.

A research study published in the Journal of Neuroscience, conducted by Madrid’s Complutense University and the Cajal Institute, suggests that a synthetic version of marijuana might halt the declining symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. By studying brain cell receptors to which cannabinoids bind and the structure of microglia, the researchers were able to find that there is a clear dysfunction of cannabinoid receptors in the brain tissue of diseased Alzheimer patients. Patients suffering from this neurodegenerative disease become unable to experience the protective effects of cannabinoids.

When testing cannabinoid’s effect on rats, the researchers not only saw an improvement in their mental functioning, but also a decrease in their immune system’s inflammatory response caused by an inactivation of microglia. The study led to the conclusion that cannabinoids not only protect the brain but also prevent the normal inflammatory response caused by Alzheimer’s disease. After the discoveries made by their study, the aim of the researchers has shifted into developing a drug that acts only on the CR2 cannabinoid receptors, producing the positive effects of cannabinoids, without acting on the CR1 receptors, which produce the damaging and harmful effects of marijuana.

Even though the use of marijuana as medical therapy is extremely controversial nowadays, the introduction of research on its effect for patients with specifically Alzheimer’s disease is more than welcome. As we have learned during class, drugs currently used to treat Alzheimer’s disease have shown small results and have proven to be ineffective in stopping its natural progression. For a disease without a cure, one that affects 5 million Americans a year and is expected to affect up to 100 million worldwide by the middle of this century, the discovery of cannabinoid receptors as potential drug targets, controversial as it might be, is clearly progress.

The hope of developing new drug therapies based on cannabinoid’s healing effects is unfortunately contrasted by the knowledge of its adverse effects, the underdevelopment of its field of research, and the controversy surrounding its use as medical therapy.


Thursday, November 8, 2007

2000 - Pot Shrinks Tumors: Government Knew in '74

May 31, 2000
Raymond Cushing

Conspiracy theories are always entertaining, but this is a particularly convincing one. Published in AlterNet, an online news source, the writer, Raymond Cushing, alleges that the U.S. Government knew that medicinal marijuana had anti-cancer effects since 1974. The medical college of Virginia, funded by the National Institute of Health, found that THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, slowed the growth of lung cancer, breast cancer, and virus-induced leukemia. The DEA then shut down the research in 1976, and President Ford ended public research by granting rights to pharmaceutical companies in order to try to develop synthetic forms of THC without the high. A more recent study done by Madrid researchers in 2000 found that THC had beneficial effects on incurable brain tumors in rats. Most rats that were treated with THC lived longer, and some brain tumors went into remission. They also tested healthy rats for adverse side effects from THC, and found none. There was no water/food intake change, nor necrosis, edema, infection or trauma. The story of the Madrid findings ran on Feb. 29, 2000 in the March issue of “Nature Medicine,” but was ignored by mainstream press in America.

Is there really a giant governmental conspiracy to keep people from knowing about the beneficial effects of marijuana? Maybe, but this article doesn't prove it. The Madrid research was comparing rats with tumors given THC vs. rats that were given a similar, synthetic compound. There was no placebo trial of rats given a non-medicinal solution. Without a placebo, the results can't be compared, and by themselves, they don't mean much. This article also conflicts with the previous post about the 1978 program to start medicinal marijuana research. That program doesn't seem to fit with the idea of a government that's trying to cover up legitimate scientific research. Also, this article says that very little literature can be found about the 1974 Virginia study, since Reagan and Bush went on a crusade to destroy medicinal marijuana documents in 1983. However, the more likely explanation is that the Virginia study didn't happen—hence the lack of research articles...or is that what the government wants us to think?


Monday, November 5, 2007

1998 - Study Targets Stalemate Over Medicinal Use of Marijuana
San Jose Mercury News (CA)
July 19, 1998
Lisa M. Krieger

This is an older article discussing the first government-sanctioned marijuana research project since 1978. The researcher, Donald Abrams, underwent a rigorous process to get his proposal approved by the NIH on the affects of marijuana and HIV. About 60 volunteers were given marijuana three times a day for three weeks, all with HIV. This article was written during the time of the study, so the results hadn't been published yet. However, what was going on between 1978 and the year of the study, 1998? Marijuana was classified as a Schedule 1 controlled substance—on the same level as heroin and LSD. In 1978, the government started a program and distributed the drug under and Investigational New Drug procedure. However, the program was suspended in 1991 because there were too many requests for marijuana-related studies. Since then, the government made it's Schedule 1 ruling. What's interesting to note is that the government has a legal marijuana farm just outside the property of the University of Mississippi, which was originally created for the 1978 program. Under the jurisdiction of the Research Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences, it's the only legal marijuana plantation in the United States.

However, between the years of 1978 and 1998, there seems to be a lack of conclusive evidence on the actual scientific affects of marijuana on various illnesses. Getting approval from the government for scientific studies involving marijuana is exceedingly difficult, and the researcher went through multiple submissions of his proposal before he was granted permission. Marijuana seemed (and seems?) to be such a controversial and taboo topic that automatically the government denies project proposals. Perhaps it's a backlash from the high numbers of marijuana project requests following the 1978 program commencement. In an effort to remedy the mistake of giving the public image for endorsing medicinal marijuana, the government wanted to convey the image that they are not promoting the drug for any purpose. The costs to create the image of an anti-drug government may have hurt the people in the long run—if more projects were approved, there would be more conclusive evidence on marijuana, either clinically supporting it or ending all rumors of a medical benefit. Although the government wouldn't have the same image, wouldn't it be worth the potential benefits? Also, I don't think its a coincidence that the first approved medicinal marijuana experiment was not on the illness that medicinal marijuana is most associated with—cancer. The widespread use of marijuana for cancer may be too controversial for the government to be ready to accept in 1998.
July 13, 2000
Alic Trinkl
“Marijuana does not appear to alter viral loads of HIV patients taking protease inhibitors”

What were the results of the mentioned study? All politics aside and two years later, it turns out that marijuana doesn't alter the viral loads of HIV patients that are taking protease inhibitors. There were no short term adverse virologic effects, which puts some worries to rest that patients who are smoking are doing more damage to themselves. The enzyme that breaks down marijuana is the same enzyme that breaks down the protease inhibitor drugs used to treat HIV, so there could have been possible side effects. The study was divided into three arms—smoking marijuana cigarettes, taking the drug orally, and a placebo. Although there was no change in HIV RNA, which was used to measure the amount of HIV in a patient, the patients given marijuana through both methods gained double the weight of the patients taking the placebos. Medicinal marijuana may still have a use in the treatment of HIV, since often patients with AIDS lose significant amounts of weight.


Thursday, November 1, 2007

1998 - Multiple Sclerosis, and Drug Rescheduling

Britain’s House of Lords’ Science and Technology Committee (HOLC)
Cannabis: The Scientific and Medical Evidence
November 1998

I found this article while browsing for definitive research supporting the use of marijuana for medical purposes. I chose to write about it specifically because it represents a variety of themes at once. It serves as an example of where the issue has gone in other countries, it addresses the need to rethink current policy regarding marijuana use, and most importantly it specifically cites the benefits of marijuana for patients suffering from Multiple Sclerosis.

Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disease where an individual’s immune system attacks the nervous system resulting in impaired mobility. It is characterized by muscular spasms, tremors, and acute or chronic pain. In the following passage, HOLC presents its recommendation for the use of cannabis by individuals with multiple sclerosis:

We have received enough evidence to convince us that cannabis almost certainly does have genuine medical applications, especially in treating the painful muscular spasms and other symptoms of MS and in the control of other forms of pain...”

The argument that marijuana works well for pain relief is one of the most commonly used in the debate. Almost every favorable report mentions it in one way or another. This is particularly confusing to me because I don’t know how pain relief can be a controversial point. I don’t think anyone can properly deny the therapeutic effects of marijuana for pain relief. How can research adequately disprove the anecdotal evidence of hundreds if not thousands of people with debilitating diseases?

I apparently share the same view as HOLC in that assertion. In their report, HOLC also said the following:

“We therefore recommend that the Government should take steps to transfer cannabis and cannabis resin from Schedule 1 of the Misuse of Drugs Regulations to Schedule 2, so as to allow doctors to prescribe an appropriate preparation of cannabis…”

The application for marijuana as pain relief contradicts its Schedule I categorization in the United Kingdom. Essentially, Schedule I drugs cannot have medical benefits and must have a high potential for abuse. I think rescheduling marijuana says a lot about current drug policy. For one, it makes me question the validity of government legislation in such matters. How can something be absolutely bad for you one day and then turn out to have been okay or “not so bad” the whole time? What does that say about how informed the original decision was in the first place?

The question of whether or not marijuana relieves pain for people with Multiple Sclerosis and whether or not is should be rescheduled is clearly a difficult one. At the very least, HOLC has contributed to an environment where one of our most basic assumptions about marijuana is challenged. The idea that marijuana has absolutely no benefit has existed for a long time in the United States. Currently, breaking past that concept and reevaluating ones stance regarding this controversial drug is proving to be very difficult. As this post has shown, it tends to create more questions than solve them.


Saturday, October 20, 2007

2007 - For more than 300 Rhode Islanders, Marijuana Provides Legal Relief

Amanda Milkovits
The Providence Journal
Sunday, Sept 9, 2007

I chose this article because it has relevance to all of our daily lives—it's important to know about the current state of medicinal marijuana laws in Rhode Island. This article, originally published in the Providence Journal, uses a combination of emotion and facts to talk about this history of marijuana legislation in RI and how it has affected its denizens. The Governor of Rhode Island, Carcieri, vetoed twice against the use of medicinal marijuana, but both times his vetoes were overturned by the General Assembly. The latest vetoed legislation legalizes medicinal marijuana, and it was overturned and made legal in Jan 2006. It permanent this past summer. The law, called the Edward O. Hawkins and Thomas C. Slater Medical Marijuana Act, allows patients with serious medical conditions, like cancer, HIV and MS, to possess the drug. They're allowed to have up to 12 plants and 2.5 ounces of marijuana, and their legalized caregiver is allowed to grow it for them. A caregiver can have up to five patients, and up to 24 plants at one time if they have more than one patient. This system has been abused once so far to date: a patient/caregiver pair were arrested for having dozens more plants than they were allowed. The caregiver has to be clean record—no felony convictions—and both the caregiver and patient are given identity cards.

As of Aug of 2007, the program has 302 patients and 316 caregivers enrolled. Although these people may be protected under state law, it's still federally illegal to possess medicinal marijuana. The United States DEA has raided California dispensaries, which sell marijuana to people with identity cards, and they could raid Rhode Island too. Although Rhode Island is the 11th state to legalize medical marijuana, the citizens living in those states are subject to federal persecution, as ruled by the Supreme Court decision in 2005. People may worry about the Feds, but the article made a clear point with personal anecdotal stories of the miraculous pain mediating effects of marijuana, and it seemed to be worth the risk for many people. Common illnesses for marijuana include Multiple sclerosis, cancer, and chronic pain of some sort, like back pain.

This is a clear example of how a court decision has had direct impact on the states, like Rhode Island, and thus on us. The paradox contradiction between federal law and state law can't continue, because to say that these laws give mixed messages is an understatement. They directly contradict each other, so this matter will have to have jurisdiction under state law or federal law, but not under both. This is also an example of the split of our country between the liberals and conservatives. Liberal states refuse to abide by the laws of a conservative government. In Brown's community, this idea is acceptable and even encouraged, but what about when a liberal government is in power and the conservative states do the same thing? What if abortion were made illegal in 11 states but the federal government legalized it? If people were to be prosecuted by the state government but exonerated by the federal, then every matter would try to make it the the supreme court, which is impossible, and people would be unfairly incarcerated. Our society has to legally agree on what is moral, because two conflicting sets of laws make an impossible situation to live in. Coming from a liberal community, I think that medicinal marijuana should be legalized on a federal level. If it helps to treat pain, and has minimal side effects, then people should be allowed to have access to it. Our Puritanical roots make the idea of legalizing drugs scary, because many fear that marijuana is the gateway drug to other, more destructive drugs. That logic may not be correct—the article presented many stories of people who claim that using marijuana allows them to stop using their pain medication, which is much more addictive. I'm glad that medicinal marijuana is legalized in Rhode Island, but that statement will mean more if the modifier that it's still federally illegal isn't needed.


Monday, October 15, 2007

2006 - F.D.A. Dismisses Medical Benefit From Marijuana

This article, published on April 2006 in The New York Times, presents the reader with the ongoing battle between politics and science regarding the medical benefits and legalization of marijuana in the United States. In 2006 the FDA announced its dismissal of any medical benefits stemming from Marijuana use, a decision that might have been shaped by societal pressures and manipulations by opponents of medical marijuana use on the FDA. Opinions on this subject are constantly being adapted to politician’s interests and beliefs by the use of legislation. The FDA’s viewpoints seem to stem more from political ideologies than from scientific data.

The FDA’s statement clearly contradicts the opinions of highly regarded scientists who believe in the positive effects of marijuana use for some patients. There is currently a dangerous reluctance from the part of the federal government to acknowledge the benefits of medical marijuana. Research on the subject is discouraged; studies proving marijuana’s benefits on certain diseases are never published. Statements without proof, such as marijuana being a gateway drug, are often used to discourage and attack this field of research. The federal government dismisses the opinions of prestigious medical institutes; ignorance stems from their desire to keep their attention away from controversial issues.

This article shows the unreliability of viewpoints given by any side regarding the legalization and medical benefits from marijuana use. We must be aware that most of the information regarding this subject is shaped by personal interests and might not be legitimate. Consequently, we must be skeptical whenever we read anything regarding the use of marijuana as medicinal therapy. Although in this article, it is made clear that in the medical community there is unanimous agreement on the advantageous effects of marijuana as medical therapy.


Wednesday, October 10, 2007

2005 - Which Causes More Harm: Marijuana or Marijuana Laws?

“Response to the American Academy of Pediatrics Report on Legalization of Marijuana”
by Curren Warf

I found this article on PubMed. It was published in Pediatrics in November of 2005 in response to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) stance against the legalization of marijuana. When assessing whether marijuana should be legalized or not, one needs to determine which is more harmful: marijuana or marijuana laws?

The author of this article, Curren Warf, argues that advocates against legalization are essentially advocating the “establishment of criminal records and imprisonment of young people and adults for a common exploratory behavior.” According to advocates against the legalization of marijuana, those found in possession of marijuana should have a one year prison sentence and lose voting rights. However, in my opinion, marijuana use is so widespread that any enforcement of the law is unavoidably capricious and unjust. What we do to people for using marijuana may be far worse than any biomedical consequences of the drug.

The United States has approximately 25% of the world’s incarcerated population, which is well over 2 million people. About 80% of the incarcerated population were arrested for a drug-related offense. The young people with records are then stigmatized for employment and professional education. When young people are incarcerated, they are taken out of their normal social environments into one that is much more dangerous. This is all a result of irrational drug laws. What we do to marijuana users is much more harmful than the physical or psychological effects of marijuana. Classifying marijuana as a schedule I narcotic is equating marijuana level of dangerousness to heroin.

Marijuana is even considered to be less dangerous than alcohol or tobacco. When America experimented with Prohibition, there was an increase in alcoholism and the monopolization of the alcohol market by organized crime and the explosion of violence regarding its markets and sale. Prohibition was more socially destructive than alcoholism. As a result of drugs being illegal is that organizations are involved in the transportation and sale of these drugs operate outside the law.

If there is a successful policy of having the marijuana plant illegal, there would be some chief consequences. Tens of millions of Americans use marijuana and it is a major crash crop. There is a reason why criminalization of marijuana has been such a failure. Nobody advocates for adolescents to use marijuana, alcohol, or tobacco, but millions of adolescents use it. It must be accepted that it is merely a part of the exploratory and experimental behaviors in which many adolescents engage. The illegal status of marijuana means that many young people come into contact with people who sell other, more dangerous drugs, and by purchasing marijuana may expose themselves to becoming more involved in more serious drug use. In conclusion, marijuana laws are more harmful than the drug itself.


Friday, October 5, 2007

2005 - Federal Crackdown on Medical Marijuana

Gonzalez, Attorney General, et al. v. Raich et al.

Argued: November 29, 2004

Decided: June 6, 2005

I was researching the legal history of medical marijuana legislation when I came across a very important Supreme Court case. This post is based off of the Supreme Court syllabus in Gonzalez vs. Raich.

On June 6, 2005 the Supreme Court ruled 6-3 in favor of Gonzalez (the Attorney General) that the United States Federal Government can prosecute medical marijuana users. To be more precise, it ruled that the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 (CSA), had the authority to prevent citizens from using medical marijuana despite state law. Angel Raich had been authorized by the state of California to grow marijuana under the Compassionate Use Act of 1996 which gives specific individuals the right to use the plant for medical purposes if other medicines prove to be ineffective. According to the case syllabus, Raich and co-defendant Diane Monson claimed that enforcement of the CSA against them was a "violation of the 5th, 9th, and 10th amendments, the Commerce Clause, and the doctrine of medical necessity."

This case raises very obvious issues regarding states rights. The federal government is prosecuting individuals who are acting lawfully according to state law. Normally a decision like this would be controversial on that token alone, but marijuana is a far more sensitive issue. From the federal government’s perspective, California law was undermining its current War on Drugs. California lawmakers, on the other hand, view DEA involvement as an infringement on their right to decide what is acceptable for their citizens. The Supreme Court Justices were well aware of all of this when they ruled in favor of Gonzales.

Since it was passed, Gonzalez vs. Raich has had a significant effect. Countless medical marijuana distributors and users have been affected. This is why the decision is so monumental. When those six justices ruled in favor of Gonzalez and the federal government, the medical marijuana controversy entered a new era, a time where gravely sick users of the plant would have to worry about being persecuted.

I don’t know whether the federal government or the states should have jurisdiction in matters like these, but I do know where I personally stand. If a state like California has decided that marijuana use will benefit these sick individuals and the users themselves attest to its benefits, the federal government should not intervene and say otherwise unless it has proof that it doesn’t. The War on Drugs has spanned several administrations and the philosophy behind it is outdated. Clearly if the states have decided there might be a medical benefit to marijuana, it cannot qualify under the Schedule 1 categorization. In the end, prosecuting users before the debate is settled only puts at risk those who are already in the most vulnerable position of all.


Tuesday, October 2, 2007

2001 - The Need for Weed: Medical Marijuana
Amina Ali

"I'm 39 years old… and, yes, of course I tried it before, I mean obviously.” These are the words of Canada’s Federal Justice Minister Martin Caucho, uttered during a press conference on July 2002. Surprising, right?

Canada currently has a very liberal and tolerant view towards the medicinal use of marijuana. I found this article browsing through the CBC’s official homepage. It deals with a milestone event in the history of medicinal marijuana.

On July 2001, after the Ontario Court decided that making marijuana illegal for everyone was a violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedom, Canada became the first country to adopt a system regulating the medicinal use of marijuana. The decision came after Terrence Parker, an epileptic who smoked in order to control his seizures, argued that his arrest for possession of marijuana was a violation of his right as a Canadian citizen of liberty and security. The court realized that other arrested marijuana users, much like in Parker’s case, had been exempted from legal repercussions. It was clear to them that marijuana use was justified for specific medical cases. The court’s ruling came from the desire to fix the lack of guidelines for the acquirement of the substance for these specific patients.

The ruling designed these set of standards for legal marijuana use: In order to legally acquire marijuana in Canada you need to suffer from a terminal illness or a severe chronic disease like arthritis or epilepsy. As a patient you must show that marijuana is the only option for therapy in your particular case. After receiving approval for marijuana use, you can either buy it from companies licensed by the government or you are given a specific amount of marijuana that you are allowed to grow yourself.
In 2003, these guidelines were declared unconstitutional, since they didn’t offer enough legal supply of the drug. In response to the claims, the government put in action an order to provide dried marijuana seeds to those authorized to use it as medical therapy.

Canada’s government portrayed an exemplary attitude when dealing with this issue. Authority figures throughout the government were able to ignore their prejudices and bias in order to protect the rights, liberty, and security of their citizens. When their legal principles proved not to be fair, they were willing to analyze and modify them. Regardless of your beliefs on the effects of marijuana as medical therapy, when looking at this issue you have to believe in the importance of keeping an open mind and having the willingness to change your thoughts upon reliable evidence that might disprove them.


Monday, October 1, 2007

1996 - California Approves of Medical Marijuana

Proposition 215: The Compassionate Use Act

California, November 1996

This post concerns the first time it became legal to provide marijuana to citizens of the United States. In November of 1996, California voters approved Proposition 215 with a margin of 56%. Proposition 215, now known as the Compassionate Use Act, removed the state’s criminal penalties for medical marijuana use by patients with,

“written or oral recommendation of a physician. It legalized cannabis use for the treatment of cancer, anorexia, AIDS, chronic pain, spasticity, glaucoma, arthritis, migraine, or any other illness for which marijuana provides relief.”

I chose to write about the Compassionate Use Act because of its significance to the medical marijuana controversy. This proposition essentially began the legal debate in the United States and led the way for other states. Since 1996, 11 other states have also approved the use of cannabis for medical purposes. Part of the reason for why this is so controversial is because it goes against its categorization as a Schedule I drug and challenges current doctrine on whether or not marijuana users should be punished and how harsh their convictions should be.

I, along with the people who have voted in favor of medical marijuana, believe that there must be some validity to the claims of the people who say it has benefited them. If the states in this country are beginning to approve the use of marijuana for medical purposes, it cannot be as harmful as the federal government claims. Furthermore, it’s almost impossible to believe that someone suffering with cancer or glaucoma would fight so passionately for their right to use cannabis for the sole sake of "just getting high".

I believe there are two reasons for why it remains controversial despite legislation like the Compassionate Use Act. The first is that there is conflicting research on the risks and benefits of marijuana use. Anyone looking into the scientific foundations behind this issue find research that supports the use of cannabis along with research that condemns it. That’s obviously confusing for both voters and legislators. At the very least all the parties involved in the debate agree that more research needs to be done. The second reason, why I believe the issue remains controversial, is tied to the stigma behind marijuana in our society. As a result of the War on Drugs, national drug education programs like D.A.R.E, or 1930's propaganda like “Reefer Madness,” American culture has placed a taboo on discussing the potential benefits of marijuana for certain individuals. Merely suggesting that research has to be done, or supporting favorable legislation prompts many to label you as a marijuana user and thus dismiss your opinion as the biased preference of an addict.

The Compassionate Use Act of 1996 has done a great deal to undermine that dismissal. Backed by doctors and needy individuals, it opened up the minds of those who would have otherwise voted against it. After all, even if one is against the use of marijuana by the general public, one doesn’t have to necessarily prohibit its use for absolutely every group. Medical marijuana legislation only affects those who claim to need it. In my opinion, if doctors and patients agree that medical marijuana is effective treatment, how is anyone else going to say that it is not? Is their word more important than that of experts and the people who actually have these problems?

So far, 12 states have voted in one way or another that they agree with this opinion.