CNN’s Sanjay Gupta Comes Around on Medical Marijuana

Tell us something we don't know, Doc.CNNYesterday, CNN reported on the case of Charlotte Figi, the 6-year-old girl whose rare seizure-inducing disorder was ultimately successfully treated by medical marijuana.

Today, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, a neurosurgeon and CNN’s chief medical correspondent, apologizes for his own resistance to the use of marijuana as medicine. He has come around on the matter, and the reasons why will sound familiar to anybody who has ever explored the way the federal government has treated marijuana:

I apologize because I didn't look hard enough, until now. I didn't look far enough. I didn't review papers from smaller labs in other countries doing some remarkable research, and I was too dismissive of the loud chorus of legitimate patients whose symptoms improved on cannabis.

Instead, I lumped them with the high-visibility malingerers, just looking to get high. I mistakenly believed the Drug Enforcement Agency listed marijuana as a schedule 1 substance because of sound scientific proof. Surely, they must have quality reasoning as to why marijuana is in the category of the most dangerous drugs that have "no accepted medicinal use and a high potential for abuse."

Now he realizes the government’s classification was not (as many, many people already know) based on “sound scientific proof” at all. Before the government became obsessed with the drug war, there was a lot of research on marijuana’s potential benefits:

While investigating, I realized something else quite important. Medical marijuana is not new, and the medical community has been writing about it for a long time. There were in fact hundreds of journal articles, mostly documenting the benefits. Most of those papers, however, were written between the years 1840 and 1930. The papers described the use of medical marijuana to treat "neuralgia, convulsive disorders, emaciation," among other things.

A search through the U.S. National Library of Medicine this past year pulled up nearly 20,000 more recent papers. But the majority were research into the harm of marijuana, such as "Bad trip due to anticholinergic effect of cannabis," or "Cannabis induced pancreatitits" and "Marijuana use and risk of lung cancer."

In my quick running of the numbers, I calculated about 6% of the current U.S. marijuana studies investigate the benefits of medical marijuana. The rest are designed to investigate harm. That imbalance paints a highly distorted picture.

Furthermore, Gupta has become familiar with the bureaucratic challenges that befall any scientist attempting to research marijuana as medication, thanks to the government’s drug classification system:

First of all, you need marijuana. And marijuana is illegal. You see the problem. Scientists can get research marijuana from a special farm in Mississippi, which is astonishingly located in the middle of the Ole Miss campus, but it is challenging. When I visited this year, there was no marijuana being grown.

The second thing you need is approval, and the scientists I interviewed kept reminding me how tedious that can be. While a cancer study may first be evaluated by the National Cancer Institute, or a pain study may go through the National Institute for Neurological Disorders, there is one more approval required for marijuana: NIDA, the National Institute on Drug Abuse. It is an organization that has a core mission of studying drug abuse, as opposed to benefit.

Read his whole piece here, and marvel at one of America’s most famous doctors “discovering” what a lot of proponents of medical marijuana already know.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    I mistakenly believed the Drug Enforcement Agency listed marijuana as a schedule 1 substance because of sound scientific proof.

    Retard.

  • sarcasmic||

    Someone's faith in his rulers has been shaken. This is good.

  • Dweebston||

    Doubt it. I think Gupta recognizes a good story for shameless self-promotion.

    Six or half-dozen, either way it gets the story into the public consciousness. As a posterchild (literally) for medical concessions (although I think it a pyrrhic victory), that little girl probably does the movement more good than years of activism.

  • Faceless Commenter||

    Way for him to aggressively and objectively pursue the truth. Ignore public records.

  • Aresen||

    But the majority were research into the harm of marijuana, such as "Bad trip due to anticholinergic effect of cannabis," or "Cannabis induced pancreatitits" and "Marijuana use and risk of lung cancer."

    I am quite sure that a "researcher" who approached the NIDA for permission to study "How Marijuana Causes Leprosy" would have no trouble getting approval.

  • Eduard van Haalen||

    Incidentally, guess what drug alleviates the effects of leprosy?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/T....._treatment

  • Almanian!||

    It's good for asthma, tuberculosis, all kinds of things.

    At least that's what I heard from Peter Tosh.

  • Eduard van Haalen||

    Thalidomide

  • Zeb||

    Well, good for him. Not only for admitting he was wrong, but actually apologizing for not bothering to find out. Though it all seems like it should be pretty apparent at this point.

  • Hyperion||

    But, brainless bureaucrats say that all illegal drugs are bad, Mkay? So they must be.

    The government has no business telling anyone what they can put into their own body, regardless of someone has decreed that it's 'BAD', or not.

  • CampingInYourPark||

    This. Whether someone admits being wrong about the good effects of a substance is beside the point. He would probably still support putting you in jail for using those things he hasn't deemed "good".

  • Bardas Phocas||

    "high-visibility malingerers"
    Those dozen stoners in high school? Really? You make medical/scientific judgements based on your percepetion of some stoners when you were an over achieving asian in high school?

    I shouldn't be hard on him about this since it's very common and, somewhat, natural reaction. This is also the reason I hate government - I hated the student governent nerds and the thuggish administration.

  • Almanian!||

    I didn't have this experience in HS - it was COLLEGE. That's where I learned that anyone running for Student Council would later be the dipshit "running" your Homeowner's Association like it was the Supreme Court, or becoming a cop or politician.

    Those were exactly the people who ran for "student government" positions. All the fun libertarian kids were at one of the fraternity houses drinking beer and smoking pot. Is that a stereotype?

  • T||

    One of my stoner buddies in college graduated cum laude with a mechanical engineering degree. I drank on the weekends, he smoked weed. His grades beat mine.

    He also worked his ass off, which I've never been a big fan of doing.

  • Dweebston||

    "Highly visible malingerers." You can almost sense the disdain dripping from the words, even while he's mouthing an apology around them. This is the 20s-era Temperance attitude wedded to New Dealerism: you owe the State your services as a taxpaying citizen, and anything which inhibits your productivity must be crushed.

  • ||

    I can actually understand how someone who is raised with the "Drugs are Bad, m'kay?" mentality would automatically dismiss pro-marijuana evidence as some sort of conspiracy by potheads who just want to get high. So kudos to him for overcoming confirmation bias in that way.

    On the plus side, if you get that - the anti-weed side is filtering out non-confirming information, not just being insane assholes, then you may be able to think of ways to change their minds. Some people will only accept information if it comes from their "side". I hope that Gupta is not outcast as a heritic, but actually manages to convince a few conservatives to change their minds too.

  • Almanian!||

    Glad Sanjay Gupta got his head a little bit less stuck up his ass.

    Fuck that statist prick anyway.

  • Eduard van Haalen||

    Tough crowd. What you say if he *didn't* support you?

  • CampingInYourPark||

    Sanjay Gupta is Almanian's father? All the bitterness makes sense now.

  • mr simple||

    1. This is just one of many issues.
    2. He doesn't fully support our position on this one issue.

  • Floridian||

    Fuck Sanjay Gupta!
    That is all.

  • ||

    Surely, they must have quality reasoning as to why marijuana is in the category of the most dangerous drugs that have "no accepted medicinal use and a high potential for abuse."

    So we have unassailable proof that he is a fucking moron. That's nice, though I didn't need it. People this stupid just need to be ignored.

  • Eduard van Haalen||

    I have noticed that libertarians have trouble accepting converts. Shouldn't there be more rejoicing among libertarians when a single lost sheep rejoins the fold than when 99 stay with the libertarian flock?

  • Floridian||

    He is not a convert. He is a statist that talks out of his ass. If he said he now sees an overreaching government as the problem he would be a convert.

  • Eduard van Haalen||

    All right, I was overly-enthusiastic. But he belatedly took an evidence-based approach to a policy issue. As a former MJ skeptic, he can't just be dismissed as a dope fiend trying to trick us into getting our kids hooked on weed.

  • Eduard van Haalen||

    (Not that it would be fair to dismiss others that way)

  • Zeb||

    Well, it's a move in the right direction anyway. A very small move toward what should be obvious by now. But still positive.

  • Aresen||

    This.

    I'd rather applaud a single step in the right direction than slap someone for not moving.

  • sarcasmic||

    I think that's because there is a difference between agreeing with libertarians on a few issues and understanding the core principles upon which libertarianism is based.

    I mean, agreeing that marijuana should be legal, while still supporting other government assaults on liberty, does not a libertarian make.

    It's like when Glenn Beck calls himself a libertarian. He's not, nor will he ever be. Agreeing with libertarians on certain issues but not in principle does not give someone the right to call themselves a libertarian.

  • Eduard van Haalen||

    I wouldn't call myself a libertarian either, except that I'm against a whole bunch of what the government does and think it's way too powerful and arbitrary, and that I don't think we're in much danger of swinging to the opposite pole of too little government.

    Many non-libertarians won great victories for freedom. Orwell was a socialist, but on the question of totalitarianism he kicked ass. Hilaire Belloc wasn't a libertarian, but he sounded the alarm about threats to freedom in the modern state.

  • sarcasmic||

    I was simply addressing your comment about libertarians not accepting converts.

    There is a difference between saying marijuana should be legal because it is good medicine, and saying marijuana should be legal because people own their own bodies and as long as they're not hurting anyone's life, liberty or property, the government has no business in their affairs.

  • CampingInYourPark||

    nor will he ever be

    Lord Sarcasmic has spoken thusly

  • sarcasmic||

    Your what hurts?

  • Robert||

    That's the head-up-ass thinking of the wild-eyed radical. What do you think, a big fraction of the world's going to become libertarian philosophers—or any kind of philosopher? You might as well condemn the overwhelming bulk of humanity because they don't spend a huge amount of their thought on biochemistry, or finance, or any of a ton of other subjects you could say are of great importance to the world.

    What impression do you think most readers of Dr. Gupta's article would have? You think it's going to make them more mean or ignorant or deluded?

    Apparently you enjoy being thought of as a put-upon minority, and any evidence of being less of a minority or less put-upon diminishes your specialness.

  • sarcasmic||

    Too many straw men, too little time.

  • Monty Crisco||

    "Agreeing with libertarians on certain issues but not in principle does not give someone the right to call themselves a libertarian."

    Remind me, who confers that right again? And where do I take the test for the licensing?

  • Brandon||

    He is not a convert, he still believes everything the DEA says about every other drug. He is a blind squirrel who got something right and learned nothing from it.

  • Emmerson Biggins||

    If he was was 25, and finally had his oh-shit-they-really-are-stupid-assholes moment, that'd be one thing.

    But he has been a statist quo mouthpiece for how long? And this isn't going to change his world view. This will just be one anomalous blip on the radar screen. And all other subject areas where he lacks the knowledge to see exactly how the government sucks, he'll go right on assuming that their supposed good intentions matter more than our racist libertarian belly-aching.

  • Robert||

    You refuse to sell him the car because although he was willing to buy on the basis of its price and roominess, he didn't seem to appreciate its excellent handling and reliability.

    This isn't going to change his world view, and you see that as a bug? To me, it's a feature. People will think, Gupta is not one to change views easily, and has not changed his world view, so if he's changed his mind on this, that's very impressive and means I should strongly consider the issue as well. If Gupta had changed his world view, then his statements about everything would be too easy for his audience to dismiss. Suppose you got a friend's advice about some matter, but then found out your friend had recently become a Hare Krisha or Scientologist or something; would that not lead you to discount the advice you got?

  • Emmerson Biggins||

    No I'll still sell him the car. Just not going to go home and build a shrine to him.

    As to your Scientology analogy:

    I think a more accurate one would be if I had a friend who was already a Scientologist figure out that e-meters are a bunch of crap, based on scientific experiment that he conducted himself. But then he still believed in Xenu and Thetans and all that crap, because designing more experiments to disprove them would be hard. I would consider that guy a tool. Just like Gupta.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    I have noticed that libertarians have trouble accepting converts.

    Get back to us when Gupta exhibits signs of "libertarian conversion". He isn't exactly making a case for self-ownership. He's just finally admitting the all-knowing high priests of government intentionally miscategorized marijuana.

  • Eduard van Haalen||

    I admitted I was overly enthusiastic.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    Your generosity of spirit is appreciated, Eduard. Perhaps this will prove to be the first step in a slow process of awakening. Perhaps Gupta will some day find himself asking, "Why IS it any of their business what we do as long as we aren't hurting anybody?"

  • Anonymous Coward||

    Instead, I lumped them with the high-visibility malingerers, just looking to get high. I mistakenly believed the Drug Enforcement Agency listed marijuana as a schedule 1 substance because of sound scientific proof. Surely, they must have quality reasoning as to why marijuana is in the category of the most dangerous drugs that have "no accepted medicinal use and a high potential for abuse."

    You mean quality reasoning like this?

    ”There are 100,000 total marijuana smokers in the US, and most are Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos and entertainers. Their Satanic music, jazz and swing, result from marijuana usage. This marijuana causes white women to seek sexual relations with Negroes, entertainers and any others.”
    -Harold J. Anslinger

    “By the tons it is coming into this country — the deadly, dreadful poison that racks and tears not only the body, but the very heart and soul of every human being who once becomes a slave to it in any of its cruel and devastating forms…. Marihuana is a short cut to the insane asylum. Smoke marihuana cigarettes for a month and what was once your brain will be nothing but a storehouse of horrid specters. Hasheesh makes a murderer who kills for the love of killing out of the mildest mannered man who ever laughed at the idea that any habit could ever get him…."
    -The San Francisco Examiner

  • Eduard van Haalen||

    I would love to nail down that Anslinger quote. It's all over the Internet, but is there an actual citation? I mean, it seems kind of too good to be true.

    A guy calling himself "Uncle Mike" has some problems tracking down original sources for these quotes. He doesn't deny them or affirm them, but asks for better citations.

    http://www.unclemikesresearch......ns-search/

  • Anonymous Coward||

    Based on my understanding, it comes from a Senate hearing back in 1937. Actual citation would require further research.

  • Eduard van Haalen||

    Here are some of his statements:

    http://www.erowid.org/culture/.....arry.shtml

    The closest I could find in a quick search was a reference to "negro" and African drug terminology, and a citation to a paper about hashish effects on "Negroes" in Central Africa:

    http://www.druglibrary.org/sch.....t/t10a.htm

  • Eduard van Haalen||

    From a discussion on Wikiquote (linked by Uncle Mike):

    "The word "Hispanic" was not used to describe persons of Latin American descent in the 1930s. The word "Hispanic" was used purely as an adjective at the time, as in "Hispanic Islands." The variation "Hispanist" existed, but was not widely used. It was first used as a noun in the late 1960s by Department of Health official Grace Flores-Hughes....[link too long for squirrels] A Government official in the 1930s would have used the term "Latin" or "Mexican," which makes it highly unlikely that this statement attributed to Anslinger was actually uttered by him."

    http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/T....._Anslinger

  • Eduard van Haalen||

    Reminds me of the Hitler "Law and Order" quote:

    http://www.bartleby.com/73/155.html

  • ||

    So can all the parents whose kids have been taken away by CPS because they smoke marijuana get their children back now?
    Can they sue the government for damages?

  • Wags||

    "Furthermore, Gupta has become familiar with the bureaucratic challenges that befall any scientist attempting to research marijuana as medication, thanks to the government’s drug classification system:"

    Wait, so you're saying that the scientific "consensus" is skewed because the funding agencies desire a certain outcome? GTFO.

    I'm sure they would never do that with climate armageddon research...

  • Paul Pot||

    Prohibition does nothing to prevent people from getting drugs for recreational purposes while only managing to keep those drugs from the people who really need them.
    When you consider that some banned substances really have medicinal properties, you have to acknowledge that denying medicine to those in great need is no different to beating someone with a stick and holding them under water. It is mass torture and mass murder of our loved ones at a time when they are most in need of help.
    And it happens as a result of wide spread persecution of the poor and minority groups.
    This persecution results in loss of liberty and psychological trauma to many and the breaking of family and community bonds.
    Prohibition is a "Crime Against Humanity".
    Legalize! Apologize! Compensate!
    Prosecute the perpetrators!

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online

  • Progressive Puritans: From e-cigs to sex classifieds, the once transgressive left wants to criminalize fun.
  • Port Authoritarians: Chris Christie’s Bridgegate scandal
  • The Menace of Secret Government: Obama’s proposed intelligence reforms don’t safeguard civil liberties

SUBSCRIBE

advertisement