Archive for September, 2006

>Former U.S. Surgeon General, Joycelyn Elders, M.D., said in March of 2004 that, “the evidence is overwhelming that marijuana can relieve certain types of pain, nausea, vomiting and other symptoms caused by such illnesses as multiple sclerosis, cancer and AIDS — or by the harsh drugs sometimes used to treat them. And it can do so with remarkable safety. Indeed, marijuana is less toxic than many of the drugs that physicians prescribe every day.” John Walters, Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, disagrees. in March of 2002, he stated that “smoked marijuana damages the brain, heart, lungs, and immune system. It impairs learning and interferes with memory, perception, and judgment. Smoked marijuana contains cancer-causing compounds and has been implicated in a high percentage of automobile crashes and workplace accidents.”Two opposing viewpoints — one hotly debated topic. Medical marijuana. They’re both right. Marijuana can relieve pain and symptoms of several illnesses, and it does do some damage to the human body when smoked. But cigarettes, alcohol and prescription drugs also do damage to the human body. Prescription drugs and alcohol can impair judgement and can lead to workplace and auto accidents as well. The difference is that prescription drugs, alcohol and cigarettes are all drugs that, when obtained properly, are not illegal.Interestingly enough, the two recreational drugs which are more popular than marijuana in America are tobacco and alcohol. What’s important to define in this debate is that those who support the use of marijuana for medical purposes do not necessarily support the legalization of marijuana for recreational use as well. These should be treated as two separate arguments. Legalization for recreational use has far too large a negative impact on society to consider; but legalization for medical purposes only, with strict guidelines and enforcement policies, could be as beneficial or even more beneficial as many other drugs currently being used in the market today.Certainly, no one has a problem with a person taking OxyContin or similar pain medications if prescribed by a doctor, even though patients can become addicted to those types of narcotics. Why is marijuana, which has yet to be proven as addictive, viewed as any different?For over 4,000 years, the cannabis plant (marijuana) had been used medicinally by a variety of cultures around the world. It was even used as medicine in the United States until 1937, when a new tax fee led to its discontinued use. In 1972, marijuana was officially placed in Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act, meaning that the government considered it to have “no accepted medical use in treatment in the United States.” Marijuana’s schedule can be changed by Congress, the DEA, or the courts, however. And Congress has voted on several bills to legalize the medical use of marijuana. None of those bills were passed. The argument most often used is that the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has five criteria for reclassifying marijuana’s schedule, and they believe that marijuana has not met those criteria. No federal court so far has ordered marijuana to be rescheduled. As a further setback to the cause, in June 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 6-3 that federal laws against marijuana, including its medical use, are valid. Many people in the general public seem to disagree. In a proposition put before the people of California, 56 percent of voters approved of legalizing medical marijuana in 1996. In 2002, however, the Drug Enforcement Administration began to confiscate the drug from medical users because marijuana still remains illegal under federal law. In a token move, the Investigative New Drug (IND) program of the FDA was extended by court order in 1978 to permit over a dozen patients to receive and use government-grown marijuana. Although the program was closed to new patients in 1991, the seven remaining patients each continue to receive about 300 marijuana cigarettes per month through the U.S. government. The big question is why this program hasn’t reached a conclusion as to the benefits or lack of benefits of medical marijuana after being in existence for over fifteen years.In their defense, the government has authorized a few research studies into the health effects of medical marijuana, but, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), to date, still has not approved marijuana as a medicine, citing the fact that it has not gone through rigorous clinical testing like other new drugs must. Proponents state that marijuana is not a “new” drug, and it should be “grandfathered” into legality. The reason it has not gone through FDA mandated testing because the government has blocked such efforts. It seems fair that the federal government and the FDA can declare marijuana unsafe for medical use through a clinical trial like any other drug, but they refuse to do so. Perhaps they are afraid to go forward with such a trial in the fear that the drug will actually pass the trials. In the meantime, it’s a shame that so many chronic pain sufferers and terminally ill patients will continue to suffer while the government does nothing to make a final decision on the possible usefulness of marijuana to treat these patients. Medical marijuana deserves a fair trial like any other medicinal drug.Cean Burgeson can be reached at