Medicine Hasn't Found Anything Wrong With Pot

Putting pot to the test.

Medicine Hasn't Found Anything Wrong With Pot
Courtesy photo

One of the biggest arguments anti-marijuana warriors use is the “we don’t know enough about this stuff” ploy.

I’ve been guilty of saying that myself.

But the truth is there’s plenty of information available about marijuana’s effects, both medically and recreationally. We know its potential and its pitfalls. We also know how a population will deal with marijuana in an unregulated atmosphere. Think of the United States before pot was criminalized, back when it was part of the pharmacopoeia of its day.

Paul Armentano, deputy director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), published an article in December that ran in several publications arguing that point. He pointed out there are literally thousands of published studies on the therapeutic effects of marijuana. 

“To date, there are over 20,000 published studies or reviews in the scientific literature referencing the cannabis plant and its cannabinoids, nearly half of which were published within the last five years according to a keyword search on PubMed Central, the U.S. government repository for peer-reviewed scientific research. Over 1,450 peer-reviewed papers were published in 2013 alone,” wrote Armentano.

One easy place to check out the majority of those published medical studies is Granny Storm Crow’s List on Facebook. There are thousands of articles listed, linked and organized in reference to which ailment or subject they address. Science knows plenty about marijuana.

One of the more recent articles, from a November 2013 issue of the journal Case Reports in Oncology, is titled “Cannabis Extract Treatment for Terminal Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia with a Philadelphia Chromosome Mutation.” It examines the case of a 14-year-old girl who was diagnosed with this form of leukemia. After 34 months of treatment, including chemotherapy, radiation and two bone marrow transplants, she was given morphine and sent home to die.

With no other options, her family turned to cannabis extracts like Rick Simpson’s Hemp Oil. When the treatment started, her blast cell count was 374,000. Blast cells are malignant white blood cells. When a person has leukemia, blast cells crowd out the healthy cells. According to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, a healthy woman has from 4,500 to 11,000 white blood cells per microliter of blood.

After 39 days of hemp oil treatments, her blast cell count had dropped to 300. Unfortunately the girl died from conventional treatments she had previously received. The authors wrote: “It must be noted that where our most advanced chemotherapeutic agents had failed to control the blast counts and had devastating side effects that ultimately resulted in the death of the patient, the cannabinoid therapy had no toxic side effects and only psychosomatic properties, with an increase in the patient’s vitality.” 

One particularly interesting aspect of the case was how closely the girl was monitored by her doctors while being treated with hemp oil. Her family was making cannabis extract with one or two ounces of marijuana at a time. They usually couldn’t get the same strain, and there were differences in the cannabinoid levels of each type. So every time they made a new batch they had to find the effective amount for her to take. 

I’ve seen traditional treatment for a similar illness up close. My sister battled multiple myeloma, a blood and bone cancer, for eight years before passing away. She had three bone marrow transplants, chemotherapy and full-body radiation. Not only did her hair fall out, her teeth started falling out too. She spent most of her last couple of years in rehabilitation facilities that didn’t rehabilitate her, and the last six months were really ugly.

I wish I had known about cannabis extracts back then. And, frankly, a lot more people need to know about them now. And don’t accept that line that we don’t know enough about cannabis.

“I think there is a lack of understanding among the general public and policymakers as to how extensively marijuana has been studied,” Armentano told me in a telephone interview last week. “We fundamentally know more about cannabis than stuff people put in their bodies every day. They have a double standard; no matter how much marijuana has been studied, it will never be enough to allow for its legal use.

“When a company is bringing a new drug to market and doing research and development, it’s expensive. Clinical trials are done on very few subjects. The duration of that trial, the time people are using experimental drugs, tends not to be very long. The only way we as a society understand the long-term safety prospects of new drugs is when that drug goes to market. Only then are large numbers of people using the drug for a significant amount of time. By their very argument against marijuana, we wouldn’t have any FDA-approved drugs. The reality is that because marijuana has been used longer than these substances, we do have an understanding of what the long-term effects of cannabis are. When do we move forward with public policy?”

The basic reason we keep hearing that we need to study it more is because the haters still can’t find anything significantly wrong with it. Nothing on the level of the health risks of alcohol and tobacco. According to the Centers for Disease Control, smoking cigarettes causes about one in five deaths in the United States every year, and there are 88,000 deaths each year due to excessive alcohol drinking, representing the No. 1 and No. 3 causes of death in the United States, respectively.

The conservative National Review magazine recently opined in an editorial: “Compared to binge drinking or alcohol addiction, marijuana use is a minor public health concern.”

There is no record of anyone dying from the direct toxic effect of using marijuana. It doesn’t cause cancer. We know from scientific study that it kills or stalls the spread of cancer cells in a petri dish. The big problem is that the government won’t allow clinical double-blind studies on people because marijuana is classified as a Schedule 1 drug with no accepted medical use. Those are the kind of studies where you figure out effective therapeutic dosages.

As far as public policy is concerned, activists have been pushing that envelope the past couple of decades through state initiatives and federal suits. Now that polls are showing that the majority of Americans believe marijuana should be legalized, there will be more movement — a CNN/ORC poll released last week found that 55 percent of Americans favor marijuana legalization. (If a president is elected with 55 percent of the vote it’s considered a landslide.)

There are currently two states that have legalized recreational use of marijuana, and 21 states that have legalized medical marijuana. Florida and Ohio have initiatives working up through the system, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is rolling out a plan for limited medical use in that state, and Alaskans will probably vote on legalization this year.

“The answers are in the scientific literature if anybody would read it,” Armentano says. “What prohibitionists are really saying is, ‘We’ve done research on marijuana and we need more research because we’re still searching for the problem.’”

That ploy isn’t going to work much longer. 

About The Author

Larry Gabriel

Larry Gabriel covers cannabis for Metro Times. He also writes the Detroit Watch in the monthly Michigan Cannabis Industries Report. Larry's chapter "Rebirth of Tribe" in the book Heaven Was Detroit, from jazz to hip-hop and beyond chronicles the involvement of Marcus Belgrave, Wendell Harrison, Harold McKinney,...
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