Marijuana Myths and Facts Part II: Marijuana as Medicine?

What the research says about physical effects, health impacts

When a good friend of mine was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer, it was Big Pharma that saved her life. Fifteen years ago, only about 15 percent of patients beat this particular form of the disease, until a drug was found that increased the survival rate to 85 percent. That finding came after years of rigorous study in controlled settings, where side effects, dosage and long-term impacts could be assessed. Eventually, the FDA granted approval and the drug was made widely available to patients.

Contrast that with the proliferation of “medical” marijuana. While compounds in the cannabis plant show some promise in pain relief, control of nausea and epilepticseizures, and appetite stimulation, pro-pot advocates aren’t pushing for more clinical trials to study the drug’s medical benefits or how to create an appropriate dosage of the compounds in the plant – rather than the raw product — while minimizing side effects. They are using emotion and heart-wrenching stories of elderly cancer patients and epileptic kids to push an illegal substance onto states across the country. Because their propaganda is easier to hear – marijuana is medicine – it’s worked in many places. But even if you can accept that line, the scientific equation must be balanced with what we know about the physical and mental health impacts of marijuana.

I’ve had the opportunity in this last year to debate pro-pot folks, and I’m always astounded by the lack of scientific evidence they use to support their assertions and their shameless use of red herrings to confuse the argument. Case in point: Marijuana isn’t addictive and hasn’t killed anyone. Wrong on both counts. While marijuana fatalities aren’t exactly commonplace, there have been a few cases of death attributed to use of the drug. But let’s be real – why is death our only standard here? What about marijuana users who become addicted? About 9 percent of users will develop an addiction, and for kids that increases to 17 percent or one in six. What about those whose addiction keeps them from holding a job or engaging with their families? Or those who develop depression, anxiety, paranoia, psychosis or other mental health conditions that have been shown to correlate with smoking pot?

For kids, the implications are even greater. Loss of IQ, impaired learning ability and memory deficits have all been found to occur when a child starts smoking pot before their brain is fully developed around age 24. Pot supporters say they don’t want more kids to use marijuana, but in pushing their agenda, they ignore 30 years of scientific prevention research that shows the more available a substance is, the more it’s going to be used. Just look to the alcohol example. That’s a legal drug and it harms more people, pot advocates fervently argue.

Which begs the question: Why do we need to legalize a third addictive substance (after alcohol and cigarettes), especially when we know the impact on our kids? It’s no coincidence that alcohol is also the most used substance by youth (no it’s not prescription drugs as many believe). Volumes of research conducted using rigorous standards by legitimate scientists and published in peer-reviewed journals has documented the link between the availability and accessibility of a drug (for example, alcohol) and how much it is used (youth use). More recent studies have found links between early marijuana use and later consequences like disability and mental illness.

The elephant in the room, of course, is whether marijuana has medicinal properties. There’s enough anecdotal evidence (though not scientific research) to suggest that components of the drug help people in pain or with severe seizure conditions, like the children suffering from Dravet syndrome whose families successfully lobbied to legalize on oil extract of the cannabis plant that seems to control the condition. That product, known as Charlotte’s Web, also isn’t FDA-approved – which means there is no standardized dosage, purity control or side effects information. Worse still, pot advocates flatly ignored a pharmaceutical- grade equivalent that’s available free of charge in clinical trials for patients here in Florida, which underscores that this argument really isn’t about helping the sick and suffering. If pot advocates really wanted to help patients and protect our kids, they would be pushing the federal government for more research to validate the reported benefits. After all, we don’t tell cardiac patients to brew up beta-blockers in their home kitchens or parents to harvest mold for penicillin when their kids get sick; we give them medicines that have been tested and proven to work. Americans have benefitted enormously from advances in science, drug manufacturing and safety protocols governing our supply of medicine. It’s not a perfect system, but because it’s there, we are better educated about the drugs we’re taking and how we stand to benefit – and suffer – from them.

Margaret Sotham is the director of the South Miami Drug-Free Coalition, the county-wide coalition spokesperson on marijuana, and a mom of two.

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5 Comments on "Marijuana Myths and Facts Part II: Marijuana as Medicine?"

  1. I have met several people who say that after many doctor's pain prescriptions did not help that maraijuana helped their screamingly severe pain. I think you dismiss this sort of story too easily.

  2. Politicians who continue to demonize Medical Marijuana, Corrupt Law Enforcement Officials who prefer to ruin peoples lives over Marijuana possession rather than solve real crimes who fund their departments toys and salaries with monies acquired through Marijuana home raids, seizures and forfeitures, and so-called "Addiction Specialists" who make their income off of the judicial misfortunes of our citizens who choose marijuana, – Your actions go against The Will of The People and Your Days Are Numbered! Find new careers before you don't have one.

    The People have spoken! Get on-board with Medical Marijuana Legalization Nationwide, or be left behind and find new careers. Your choice.

    • Fear of Medical Marijuana Legalization is unfounded. Not based on any science or fact whatsoever.

      So please, all prohibitionists, we beg you, give your scare tactics, "Conspiracy Theories" and "Doomsday Scenarios" over the inevitable Legalization of Medical Marijuana a rest. Nobody is buying them anymore these days. Okay?

      Furthermore, if all prohibitionists get when they look into that nice, big and shiny crystal ball of theirs, while wondering about the future of Medical Marijuana Legalization Nationwide, is horror, doom, and despair, well then I suggest they return that thing as quickly as possible and reclaim the money they shelled out for it, since it's obviously defective.

      The prohibition of marijuana has not decreased the supply nor the demand for medical marijuana at all. Not one single iota, and it never will. Just a huge and complete waste of our tax dollars to continue criminalizing sick patients and senior citizens in pain for choosing a natural, non-toxic, relatively benign plant proven to be much safer than daily handfuls of deadly, toxic, man-made, highly addictive, narcotic pain pills and other pharmaceuticals .

      If prohibitionists are going to take it upon themselves to worry about "saving us all" from ourselves, then they need to start with the drug that causes more death and destruction than every other drug in the world COMBINED, which is alcohol!

      Why do prohibitionists feel the continued need to vilify and demonize marijuana when they could more wisely focus their efforts on a real, proven killer, alcohol, which again causes more destruction, violence, and death than all other drugs, COMBINED?

      Prohibitionists really should get their priorities straight and or practice a little live and let live. They'll live longer, happier, and healthier, with a lot less stress if they refrain from being bent on trying to control others through Draconian Marijuana Laws.

      • When a loved one is in pain, wasting away unable to eat, and needs this marvelous herb in order to increase their appetite, reduce the overwhelming pain, and live as as healthy and happily as they can with the time they have left, let's have the compassion to allow them to have it.

        Stop treating Medical Marijuana Patients like second rate citizens and common criminals by forcing them to the dangerous black market for their medicine.

        Risking incarceration to obtain the medicine you need is no way to be forced to live.

        Support Medical Marijuana Now!

        "[A] federal policy that prohibits physicians from alleviating suffering by prescribing marijuana for seriously ill patients is misguided, heavy-handed, and inhumane." — Dr. Jerome Kassirer, "Federal Foolishness and Marijuana," editorial, New England Journal of Medicine, January 30, 1997

        "[The AAFP accepts the use of medical marijuana] under medical supervision and control for specific medical indications." — American Academy of Family Physicians, 1989, reaffirmed in 2001

        "[We] recommend … allow[ing] [marijuana] prescription where medically appropriate." — National Association for Public Health Policy, November 15, 1998

        "Therefore be it resolved that the American Nurses Association will: — Support the right of patients to have safe access to therapeutic marijuana/cannabis under appropriate prescriber supervision." — American Nurses Association, resolution, 2003

        "The National Nurses Society on Addictions urges the federal government to remove marijuana from the Schedule I category immediately, and make it available for physicians to prescribe. NNSA urges the American Nurses' Association and other health care professional organizations to support patient access to this medicine." — National Nurses Society on Addictions, May 1, 1995

        "[M]arijuana has an extremely wide acute margin of safety for use under medical supervision and cannot cause lethal reactions … [G]reater harm is caused by the legal consequences of its prohibition than possible risks of medicinal use." — American Public Health Association, Resolution #9513, "Access to Therapeutic Marijuana/Cannabis," 1995

        "When appropriately prescribed and monitored, marijuana/cannabis can provide immeasurable benefits for the health and well-being of our patients … We support state and federal legislation not only to remove criminal penalties associated with medical marijuana, but further to exclude marijuana/cannabis from classification as a Schedule I drug." — American Academy of HIV Medicine, letter to New York Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, November 11, 2003

  3. Those opposed to the advance of medical marijuana love to state that there are no scientific studies. In the US research regarding the benefits of medical marijuana is prohibited. It's ridiculous to keep pointing to the US as the only viable resource for information. Other countries are studying the benefits and many placebo-controlled, peer-reviewed studies have been done. Here, for instance is a link to just one page of references : The lies that are intended to keep the decision on medical treatment restricted to benefitting the big parmaceurical companies and the phony rehab centers, must stop.

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