An Acupuncturist’s View
of the Pro Side
of the Medical Marijuana Debate



The Pro Side

The pro side includes many true believers and advocates who, just like its opposition, appear to have an agenda that goes beyond the issue of medical use alone. They also have some good points. These include:

- Marijuana’s universal use and safety. Healers from many cultures around the world have used marijuana as medicine for at least 4000 years. From then until now there has never been a report of a fatality directly due to marijuana.

- The lethal dose of smoked marijuana has been calculated to be somewhere between one to two thousand joints in a single session. This is not likely to happen.

- Tobacco is legal and, at 430,700 deaths per year or 1180 per day, is the leading cause of substance-abuse deaths. Alcohol is also legal and 110,600 or 303.01 people per day die from it each year. Legal prescription drugs cause 32,000 fatalities a year, or 87.67 per day. 7,600 people die each year die from taking anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin. That’s 20.82 per day. The total number of annual and daily deaths caused by marijuana is the same: zero.

Of course, there’s a lot more to life than life and death. But the point is that thousands of deaths from prescription and over the counter drugs could be prevented every year if medical marijuana was legal.

- Marijuana was already widely used as medicine in the United States until the 1930s, when it got caught up in the pharmacopolitical maelstrom that it is still ensnared in today.

- Given its many benefits and general lack of serious side effects, it is unreasonable for the DEA to deny people access to medical marijuana.

- Proponents of medical marijuana believe that marijuana produces no unacceptable risks to its users or to the community. Many also believe that even if marijuana posed long term risks to terminal patients, those risks would be outweighed by the immediate relief that marijuana gives them from their suffering.

- Many patients, physicians, medical organizations, and politicians argue that both clinical evidence and various scientific peer-reviewed studies show that marijuana already has accepted medical uses in the U.S. right now, such as:

1) Marijuana is a safe and effective treatment for dozens of conditions like cancer, AIDS, multiple sclerosis, pain, migraines, glaucoma and epilepsy.

2) It helps fatigue, restores appetite, diminishes pain, remedies nausea, stops vomiting and slows down catastrophic weight loss.

3) Marijuana can help sick and dying people experience a more humane death.


- Marijuana can be a very strong component in treating people with advanced HIV infections and the side effects of multiple-drug therapies used to control HIV. Although there is concern in this arena due to marijuana’s immunosuppressive effects, researchers from the University of California, San Francisco have found that patients with HIV infection taking protease inhibitors do not experience short-term adverse virologic effects from using cannabis. (That means they don’t get sicker when they take it.)

- Medical marijuana has strong palliative effects (that means it helps them feel better) in cancer patients by preventing nausea, vomiting and pain and by stimulating appetite. Some cannabinoids have even been shown to inhibit the growth of tumor cells in culture and animal models by modulating key cell-signaling pathways. These cannabinoids are usually well tolerated, and lack the toxic effects of conventional chemotherapies.

Consumer Reports magazine wrote in May 1997:

"Consumer Reports believes that, for patients with advanced AIDS and terminal cancer, the apparent benefits some derive from smoking marijuana outweigh any substantiated or even suspected risks. In the same spirit the FDA uses to hasten the approval of cancer drugs, federal laws should be relaxed in favor of states' rights to allow physicians to administer marijuana to their patients on a caring and compassionate basis."
May 1997 Consumer Reports

- Some U.S. government-funded studies have shown that marijuana may have medical value. One of these is the $1 million 1999 Institute of Medicine study, which actually recommends short-term use of smoked marijuana for patients with debilitating symptoms, and acknowledges that there is no other clear alternative for people suffering from chronic conditions that are relieved by smoking marijuana. However, it doesn’t conclude that marijuana is a completely benign substance. The report states that marijuana is a powerful drug with a variety of effects. However, except for the harms associated with smoking, it demonstrates that the adverse effects of marijuana use are within the range of effects tolerated for other medications.

-Proponents of medical marijuana counter the dangers of smoking marijuana with other methods of delivery such as edibles, vaporization, tinctures, oils, and teas.

- Smoking marijuana is a health risk. Because it is a risk, the American Public Health Association encourages research on the therapeutic properties of various cannabinoids and combinations of cannabinoids and alternative methods of administration to decrease the harmful effects related to smoking. It also advocates making cannabis available as a legal medicine where it can be shown to be safe and effective, and to allow access to therapeutic cannabis through the Investigational New Drug Program.

- The American Medical Association (AMA) has called for further studies of marijuana and related cannabinoids as a treatment for patients who have serious conditions where evidence suggests that using these substances might be helpful. It also recommends that marijuana remain a controlled substance, with a change in legal status pending until the studies are complete.

- Drug safety is a relative term. A drug’s safety is measured against the potential harm a patient might experience if they weren’t taking the drug. Do the drug's benefits outweigh its potential risks and the risks of permitting the disease to progress? Proponents of medical marijuana believe that marijuana can easily meet the FDA criteria that test whether a new product's benefits to users will outweigh its risks.

- The FDA has approved the drug Dronabinol, or Marinol, which is a synthetic form of THC, the principal psychoactive component of marijuana. This demonstrates that the federal government already believes that the main chemical component of marijuana is medically beneficial.

- From the sick person’s viewpoint, compared with comparable pharmacological medicines, marijuana is often a clear and obvious choice in terms of both toxicity and effectiveness. For example, it makes no sense to prescribe a pill for vomiting and nausea because the patient vomits it out before the medicine can take effect. Smoking marijuana is a very effective remedy for nausea and other digestive issues where the patient can’t use oral medications. Marinol does not work as well as marijuana for many patients, costs more than medical marijuana, does not treat nausea effectively, is poorly absorbed, takes 30-60 minutes to take effect, remains psychoactive for 8-12 hours and lacks the anti-inflammatory and anti-seizure effects of whole cannabis. The Complete Guide To Prescription & Nonprescription Drugs (pg. 334-335), shows that the risks of marijuana and Marinol, other than the risks of smoking, are identical.

- It’s not just a bunch of shambling old hippies that are supporting deeper research into medical marijuana:

The U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) stated in 2005 that, "Marijuana looks promising enough to recommend that there be new controlled studies done."
1/05 NIH

The New England Journal of Medicine, the American Cancer Society and Kaiser Permanente all support access to or research on medical marijuana.

Lancet Neurology pointed out that marijuana has proved effective against pain in lab tests and could become "the aspirin of the 21st Century." Lancet Neurology 05/05

In the journal Brain (Vol. 126, No. 10, 2191-2202, October 2003) researchers at London's Institute of Neurology reported: "In addition to symptom management, cannabis may also slow down the neurodegenerative processes that ultimately lead to chronic disability in multiple sclerosis and probably other diseases." 
10/03 Brain

The American Medical Association's Council on Scientific Affairs reported in June 2001 to the AMA House of Delegates:

"Until rapid-onset cannabinoid drugs are clinically available, our AMA affirms the appropriate use of marijuana and related cannabinoids in carefully controlled programs designed to provide symptomatic relief of nausea, or other palliative effects. Such compassionate use is appropriate when other approved medications provide inadequate relief or are not tolerated, and the protocols provide for physician oversight and a mechanism to assess treatment effectiveness." 
6/01 AMA

The American Public Health Association (APHA) wrote in 1995 that it "...urges the Administration and Congress to move expeditiously to make cannabis available as a legal medicine where shown to be safe and effective and to immediately allow access to therapeutic cannabis through the Investigational New Drug Program."
1995 APHA

- There are also some important political issues surrounding medical marijuana. Most Americans want medical marijuana to be legal. WebMD's July 2003 poll of its physician and nurse members found that three out of four doctors and nine out of 10 nurses said they favored decriminalization of marijuana for medical use. Since 1995, every vote or poll on this subject has resulted in pro-medical marijuana outcomes, finding that over 70% of the American population is favorable to the use of medical marijuana.

- Proponents of medical marijuana believe that if 70% of the U.S. population wants it as a medical option, it should be a medical option. This brings up a very important issue of choice on a popular level versus a (hopefully) more educated and wise medical hierarchy that retains the power to diagnose, dispense and withhold medicine at its own discretion.

- On a social level, one of the main issues raised has been that of medical marijuana exposing and enabling youth to marijuana. But there’s no solid evidence that decriminalization increases marijuana use among youths. The National Household Survey on Drug Abuse indicates that marijuana use has decreased among 12-17 year olds since 1995 and use is not higher among the same age group in decriminalized states than it is nationally. The 1999 Institute of Medicine (IOM) report did a state-by-state comparison and found that high school seniors in decriminalized states reported using no more marijuana than did their counterparts in states where marijuana was not decriminalized. The IOM Report concluded on page 104: "In summary, there is no evidence that the medical marijuana debate has altered adolescents’ perceptions of the risks associated with marijuana use."
(1999 U.S. I.O.M. Report)

- We’ve also learned that allowing the medical use of marijuana will not prevent the government from punishing recreational users. The U.S. General Accountability Office (GAO) found in November, 2002 that the majority of 37 law-enforcement agencies said that medical-marijuana laws have had little impact on their law-enforcement activities. There is a general lenience toward medical marijuana users on the state level, but issues of federal and state law enforcement frequently clash on this issue.

- The international status of medical marijuana is pretty much what one would expect. In the Netherlands, cannabis is a prescription drug and is available at pharmacies. Belgium allows medical marijuana and may soon allow its citizens to grow small caches of the herb. Australia and New Zealand are considering approval of medical marijuana. Canada goes so far as to provide medical marijuana via its public health system. In places like China, one can expect life imprisonment or death for possession for any reason.

My personal experience with many of the people who are strongly in the pro-medical marijuana camp is that they are whiny, complaining victims who believe that they have some kind of a right to get stoned because they’re American citizens. Putting that aside, the issue with this group that I believe is the most serious is that they don’t want to talk about or acknowledge the fact that marijuana does indeed have side effects and what to do about them. Come on, even a glass of milk has side effects, so let’s get real.

I have been publicly attacked and personally reviled by several leaders of the marijuana industry for suggesting that we use Traditional Chinese Medicine to address the short and long term side effects of marijuana on a clinical basis. Incredulous, they have lambasted me on more than one occasion for educating the public on the side effects of marijuana, saying that this education will do irreparable harm to their legalization efforts.

I completely disagree. To my view, acknowledging marijuana’s side effects and taking positive steps to balance them marks a mature and empowered stance on this issue. I believe it lends much needed credibility to their cause.


This article was some of the original material that went on to become
Marijuana Syndromes
How to Balance and Optimize
the Effects of Cannabis
With Traditional Chinese Medicine

Marijuana Debate Con Side

Marijuana Debate My Perspective

Important Marijuana Articles

Home


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For extensive details on how to balance and optimize the effects of cannabis using Traditional Chinese Medicine, please refer to

Marijuana Syndromes
How to Balance and Optimize
the Effects of Cannabis
With Traditional Chinese Medicine

Home