The War on Medicine

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and the Leaves of the Tree are for the Healing of the Nations…

Although used for centuries as medicine by varied cultures across the world, in the US, medical marijuana became part of mainstream medicine in 1850, when it was added to the US Pharmacopeia. Physicians prescribed the use of cannabis broadly for a range of indications including (but not limited to) pain, emesis, migraine, insomnia, epilepsy, and opium withdrawal (Birch, 1889; Potter, 1917; Grinspoon and Bakalar, 1997; Booth, 2003).

Reefer Madness

It remained widely available until 1937, when the marijuana tax law criminalized use of the substance.  As anti-marijuana sentiments grew across the country, it was removed from the pharmacopeia in 1942 and in 1970, the passage of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) declared marijuana a Schedule I substance and the cultivation, possession, and distribution of marijuana became prohibited.

According to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Schedule I drugs are those

“with no currently accepted medical use, no demonstrated safety profile and a high potential for abuse…[they] are the most dangerous drugs of all the drug schedules with potentially severe psychological or physical dependence” (dea.gov2; Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 19703).

Marijuana > Heroin & Cocaine?

This classification deems marijuana more dangerous than other substances including cocaine, methamphetamine, and opiate-based drugs, which ironically are responsible for approximately 30,000 deaths per year (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2015). In fact, opioid overdoses are now considered a national epidemic; the rate of opioid overdose deaths, including those related to both prescription pain relievers and heroin, has nearly quadrupled since 1999 (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2015).

Given its Schedule I classification, research studies exploring both potential risks and benefits of medical marijuana have faced numerous obstacles, forcing policy to outpace science in recent years. As the national climate warms toward marijuana, research is slowly pushing forward. However, much is left to be explored before the gap between science and policy can begin to close.

Excerpted with minor changes from Gruber SA, Sagar KA, Dahlgren MK, Racine MT, Smith RT and Lukas SE (2016) Splendor in the Grass? A Pilot Study Assessing the Impact of Medical Marijuana on Executive Function. Front. Pharmacol. 7:355. doi: 10.3389/fphar.2016.00355

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Medical Marijuana Studies Prove It Safe, Effective

Studies reveal that marijuana and its active constituents, known as cannabinoids, are relatively safe and effective therapeutic and/or recreational compounds. Unlike alcohol and most prescription or over-the-counter medications, cannabinoids are virtually nontoxic to health cells or organs, and they are incapable of causing the user to experience a fatal overdose. Unlike opiates or ethanol, cannabinoids are not classified as central nervous depressants and cannot cause respiratory failure. In fact, a 2008 meta-analysis published in the Journal of the Canadian Medical Association reported that cannabis-based drugs were associated with virtually no elevated incidences of serious adverse side-effects in over 30 years of investigative use.

Studies further reveal that the marijuana plant contains in excess of 60 active compounds that likely possess distinctive therapeutic properties. One recent review identified some 30 separate therapeutic properties—including anti-cancer properties, anti-diabetic properties, neuroprotection, and anti-stroke properties—influenced by cannabinoids other than THC. While not all of these effects have been replicated in clinical trials, many have.

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