Medical Marijuana

Pot Prohibitionists for Medical Marijuana

Obstacles to research are crumbling, with support from drug warriors.

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Two reviews published in The Journal of the American Medical Association last week conclude there is substantial evidence that marijuana relieves the pain, nausea, and spasticity associated with certain illnesses. But the researchers found little evidence to support marijuana's use in treating most of the other conditions it is said to alleviate.

In an editorial accompanying the review articles, Yale psychiatrists Deepak Cyril D'Souza and Mohini Ranganathan express dismay at the proliferation of conditions that cannabis supposedly can be used to treat, which include glaucoma, anxiety, depression, sleep disorders, Tourette syndrome, epilepsy, hepatitis C, lupus, fibromyalgia, Crohn's disease, Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, Huntington's disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, and post-traumatic stress disorder. "It has been argued that the lack of high-quality evidence reflects the difficulty in conducting marijuana research in the United States," D'Souza and Ranganathan write. "If so, the federal and state governments should support and encourage such research so that high-quality evidence can be generated to guide decisions about medical marijuana use for the conditions for which the existing evidence is either insufficient or of poor quality."

For decades approval of such research, let alone support and encouragement, has been hard to obtain. Federal officials argued that there was not enough evidence of marijuana's medical benefits to justify removing it from Schedule I, the most restrictive category of the Controlled Substances Act. At the same time, they made it difficult to do the research necessary to provide such evidence by erecting gratuitous bureaucratic obstacles. But those obstacles are beginning to crumble, reflecting a bipartisan consensus that the process for investigating cannabis-based medicine should be streamlined. These days even pot prohibitionists support medical marijuana research.

Last week Sens. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), two of the most ardent drug warriors in Congress, convened a hearing of the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control to consider "barriers to research" on cannabidiol (CBD), a nonpsychoactive component of marijuana that shows promise in treating drug-resistant epilepsy. CBD has attracted champions across the ideological spectrum thanks to compelling stories about children with intractable epilepsy whose seizures were controlled by high-CBD, low-THC cannabis oil. Those stories explain conservative support for bills that have legalized the use of such extracts to treat epilepsy in a dozen states that otherwise do not recognize marijuana as a medicine, although the laws generally do not provide for a legal supply of CBD oil.

At last week's hearing, Tom Minahan, an emergency room physician and self-identified conservative from California, testified that his 12-year-old daughter, Mallory, who had her first seizure at 14 months, was eventually suffering 30 to 40 a month and as many as a dozen a night. "No prescribed medications kept her seizures under control and allowed her to have any quality of life," Minahan said. "Some medications had such toxic side effects that my wife and I often wondered if it was better for her to just try and live with constant seizures."

Then Minahan and his wife heard about the potential benefits of high-CBD cannabis oil for children like Mallory. "Reluctantly, cautiously, and knowing that we really didn't have too many options left, we started my daughter on it," he said. "She took the oil every eight hours. To our surprise, almost immediately my daughter demonstrated amazing results." The frequency of Mallory's seizures has been reduced by 90 percent. "She's more alert than ever before, and she's back in school for the first time in three years," Minahan reported. "We truly feel that thanks to cannabis oil, we have our daughter back."

Such accounts clearly have had an impact on Grassley and Feinstein. "Thousands of children throughout our country suffer from rare, extreme types of intractable epilepsy," Grassley noted in his opening statement. "Encouraging responsible research on CBD is a goal I think we all share."

Feinstein agreed. "I have not been a supporter of recreational marijuana use," she said, "but I do believe that we have a responsibility to determine if cannabidiol and other marijuana-derived medicines could have a positive long-term medical benefit, and we should also explore the ways to allow compassionate access while simultaneously pursuing a medically sound path forward. I've heard remarkable stories from parents in California and across the country…that cannabidiol has reduced seizures in children with intractable epilepsy and helped improve their quality of life."

Last October, Grassley and Feinstein sent letters to the Justice Department, which includes the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), and the Department of Health and Human Services, asking them to consider revising regulations that "may have the unintended consequence of inhibiting additional research on potential medical uses for marijuana." This week, as Grassley noted at the hearing, the Obama took a siginificant step in that direction by eliminating a requirement that medical marijuana studies undergo an additional layer of review by the U.S. Public Health Service. That requirement, instituted in 1999, applied to no other Schedule I drug.

"The Obama administration has actively supported scientific research on whether marijuana or its components can be safe and effective medicine," a spokesman for the Office of National Drug Control Policy told The Huffington Post. "Eliminating the Public Health Service review should help facilitate additional research to advance our understanding of both the adverse effects and potential therapeutic uses for marijuana or its components."

Another sign that the administration is serious about making medical marijuana research easier to do: The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), the only legal source of marijuana for research, recently expanded its menu of offerings to include high-CBD strains for the first time. "The change is part of the reduction in resistance to medical marijuana research due to the increasing number of medical marijuana and marijuana legalization states," says Rick Doblin, executive director of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), which is sponsoring a study of marijuana as a treatment for posttraumatic stress disorder.

Researchers still would prefer the option of obtaining marijuana from other sources, which is permitted for other Schedule I drugs. They argue that eliminating NIDA's monopoly on marijuana, which is produced by a single contractor at the University of Mississippi, would improve variety and quality while making it possible to pursue approval of cannabis by prescription. Doblin notes that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires that Phase 3 studies of a proposed medicine use exactly the same product that the sponsor plans to market, which is not feasible as long as NIDA has a lock on the supply. In 2009 the DEA rejected a MAPS-backed request to let University of Massachusetts at Amherst horticulturist Lyle Craker produce marijuana for research, despite an administrative law judge's recommendation that the petition be granted. But yesterday NIDA Director Nora Volkow said she thought it made sense for her agency to contract with additional cannabis producers.

"It's amazing," Doblin says. "Nora Volkow supports the end of the NIDA monopoly! The NIDA monopoly is the remaining barrier to research. We plan to work with Lyle Craker to submit a new application to the DEA for a license to grow marijuana exclusively for federally regulated research. We anticipate submitting the new application within a month. The end of the [Public Health Service] protocol review seems like a trial balloon for ending the NIDA monopoly, which today's hearing suggests the Obama Administration is ready to end."

Judging from what Joseph Rannazzisi, the DEA's deputy assistant administrator, said at the hearing, the agency (now under new management) may be more open to Craker's petition than it was in 2009. "The DEA supports research involving CBD and its potential capacity to treat multiple conditions," Rannazzisi said. "DEA understands the importance of supporting the efficient scientific assessment of marijuana and its constituents such as CBD in connection with new drug development. DOJ and DEA are fully committed to supporting lawful research involving marijuana and CBD."

Kevin Sabet, co-founder of the anti-pot group Project SAM, also voices support for facilitating medical marijuana research. Testifying last week, he recommended ending NIDA's marijuana monopoly, reducing or eliminating the DEA's registration requirements for researchers who handle CBD, and establishing research programs through which patients can obtain CBD before it is approved by the FDA. "It is important to separate the discussion of the recreational use of marijuana and the potential medical benefits of its components," Sabet said.

The desire for such a separation, along with the plight of children suffering from drug-resistant epilepsy, helps explain the sudden support for medical marijuana from prohibitionists like former drug czar Bill Bennett. In his recent book Going to Pot, Bennett recommends tightly controlled, federally regulated access to medical marijuana as an alternative to looser state programs. While prohibitionists portrayed state-regulated medical marijuana as a stalking horse for broader legalization, they see federally regulated medical marijuana as a defense against it.

This article originally appeared at Forbes.com.

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25 responses to “Pot Prohibitionists for Medical Marijuana

  1. “The Obama administration has actively supported scientific research on whether marijuana or its components can be safe and effective medicine,” a spokesman for the Office of National Drug Control Policy told The Huffington Post.

    So active he only waited six and a half years to take this one baby step.

    1. “safe” medicine?! As a retired physician, with graduate school, surgical residency, and two years of pain management education, I know about 99.9%, of recent prescription medications, are more dangerous than cannabis. Most of the drugs, they claim to be useless, and class 1, are, in fact, medications, by any other definition! Even heroin is just a form of morphine! It IS useful as pain medication, if it is not filled with the impurities that illegal manufacture puts into it. Ecstasy is just another amphetamine, useful in the treatment of social anxiety disorders. Very few drugs deserve the class one status! Just stop the insanity and fix the stupidity that is the CSA!

      I have to suffer poorly treated spasticity and neuropathy from a spinal cord injury, because I have to live in a state without medical cannabis! The only better thing would be to legalize all drugs, to allow the investigation that society deserves! How many of these naturally available substances, just might, have the answer to many diseases. Right now, we will never know, what medical miracle are contained in their molecules!

      The politicians and the petty medical professionals need to get over themselves and push for the right thing. The right thing that serves all of humanity!

    2. “safe” medicine?! As a retired physician, with graduate school, surgical residency, and two years of pain management education, I know about 99.9%, of recent prescription medications, are more dangerous than cannabis. Most of the drugs, they claim to be useless, and class 1, are, in fact, medications, by any other definition! Even heroin is just a form of morphine! It IS useful as pain medication, if it is not filled with the impurities that illegal manufacture puts into it. Ecstasy is just another amphetamine, useful in the treatment of social anxiety disorders. Very few drugs deserve the class one status! Just stop the insanity and fix the stupidity that is the CSA!

      I have to suffer poorly treated spasticity and neuropathy from a spinal cord injury, because I have to live in a state without medical cannabis! The only better thing would be to legalize all drugs, to allow the investigation that society deserves! How many of these naturally available substances, just might, have the answer to many diseases. Right now, we will never know, what medical miracle are contained in their molecules!

      The politicians and the petty medical professionals need to get over themselves and push for the right thing. The right thing that serves all of humanity!

  2. Greece closed its banks for a week. People can withdraw 60 euros a day from ARMs starting tomorrow, but the machines are only at 40% capacity.
    http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-33307263

    1. ATMs, not ARMs…the latter are all broken.

    2. This should be fun

  3. Schedule 1 makes no sense. I could understand if it was defined as a category of dangerous drugs with no known medical benefit. But to make drugs unattainable because they’ve not yet proved beneficial is bassackward. All substances should be available unless using them puts others at risk.

    1. All substances should be available unless using them puts others at risk.

      Or all substances should just be available and users should be held responsible for any damage that they might cause.

      1. users should be held responsible for any damage that they might cause.

        Isn’t that why we have a *Drug Czar* — to “take full responsibility”?

      2. But if you let people make their own decisions then they will too often make decisions that their betters disapprove of.

  4. I just smoked a little doobie and called it my Feinstein hit.

    Ah, Feinstein is asking: are you sick? Yes, I sick of you Feinstein and your totalitarian agenda.

  5. Repeal the CSA and legalize all drugs

    1. Repeal the CSA

      Well, what did you think all this flag-lowering stuff was about?

      1. That took me a second:)

    2. I’d like to walk into a drug store and buy some LSD and MDA.

  6. Three marijuana stories right out the gate this morning. The recent habit of Reason’s writing staff deciding to all write about the same issue at the same time(even predating gay marrige) is growing a touch tedious. I wonder how they make the decision to do so. This immediately came to mind.

    http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=wz-PtEJEaqY

    1. Ah, fuck me. These are all Sullmun articles. Sorry, need moarz coffee.

      1. I’m on third cup. Still in fog.

  7. Shucks, I am a rabid right wing neocon, and proud of it, but let the pendulum swing and legalize all drugs. I paraphrase Uncle Ben “with freedom comes great responsibility”. Of course to so many on the Left and a few on the Right want to run every aspect of our lives so the chances of this are nil.

    1. I call it self-control: the absolute right, and duty, to control self and property. The only purpose of a redress system is to adjudicate clashes of self-control, which are inevitable, considering that merely walking down a crowded street involves constant inconsequential clashes, and even two people living on opposite sides of an otherwise unpopulated planet interfere with each other in some minimal sense.

      Statists start by taking over whatever bits and pieces of self-control they feel like: sometimes the right, sometimes the duty, leaving the concept all out of whack. When accountability exceeds authority, there are scapegoats. When authority exceeds accountability, there is corruption.

      Statists compound the error by doubling down every time the corruption becomes too stinky to avoid notice, carving out new exceptions and special conditions, leading to ever more corruption.

  8. Marijuana is sooo old. The battle for freedom rages on. Hell, recently people had to fight to keep the freedom of choosing the size soft drink they could buy. Weed won’t be legal until all the geezers from the Reefer Madness days have died of old age. They’re in the seats of power, and GAWDDAMMIT, they know it’s dangerous!! Just look at Colorado, the poor citizens are practically being overwhelmed with the bodies stacking up from marijuana fatalities, right?? Right? No?

  9. Beware Medical Marijuana is just another pig in a poke leaving cannabis as a schedule I drug allows government to continue to incarcerate people for possession of a plant.

    1. Hope they don’t get the idea with tomato plants or peppers! Either can have substantial adverse effects on the skin! I just wish they would use a bit more of their brains, before making decisions that put people in jail, for no reason, at all!

  10. “It is important to separate the discussion of the recreational use of marijuana and the potential medical benefits of its components,” Sabet said.”

    Okay, prohibition mouth-piece. – We’ll separate them as long as you acknowledge that every person who switches from addictive, very harmful alcohol, to near harmless marijuana, improves their health tremendously – as well as the lives of their family and community.

  11. It just goes to show how much pressure and threats can change the point of view of an entire segment of our society. You see, when Harry Anslinger, under orders from Pres. Roosevelt began this anti-marijuana crusade the officials at A.M.A. spoke out against the prohibition because the medical community was beginning to make some real progress in studying the medicinal properties of the plant. It had been used in tons of patent medicines for things from toothache to constipation, asthma and all sort of problems. Try to imagine how much further along real scientific research had been allowed to continue over the 80 year hiatus. How many lives have been wasted in our country alone since the fiasco began but were warned by Roosevelt to fall in line or be done away with. Anslinger said he knew the prohibition wouldn’t work, he was just a good bureaucrat doing what he was told. Then, along comes WW2 and our government switched their stance real fast. They went to FFA, Boy and girl scouts, 4H and all sort of youth organizations and gave them the seeds and knowledge to grow hemp because it was necessary fior the war effort. We couldn’t make ropes, canvas or burlap without it because the insidious Japanese controlled the nations in which it was produced.

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