Marijuana prohibition applies to everyone, including the sick and dying. Of all the negative consequences of prohibition, none is as tragic as the denial of medical marijuana to the tens of thousands of seriously ill patients who could benefit from its therapeutic use. It is clear from available studies and rapidly accumulating anecdotal evidence that marijuana is therapeutic in the treatment of a number of serious ailments and is less toxic and costly than many conventional medicines for which it may be substituted.
Most recently, a federally commissioned report by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) determined that, Marijuanas active components are potentially effective in treating pain, nausea, the anorexia of AIDS wasting, and other symptoms including multiple sclerosis. 2 In some cases, marijuana appears more effective than the commercially available drugs it replaces. 3 The best established medical use of smoked marijuana is as an anti-nauseant for cancer chemotherapy.
During the 1980s, researchers in six different state-sponsored clinical studies involving nearly 1,000 patients determined smoked marijuana to be an effective anti-emetic. For many of these patients, smoked marijuana proved more effective than both conventional prescription anti-nauseants and oral THC (marketed today as the synthetic pill, Marinol). 5 Dr. John Benson, Jr. , co-principle investigator for the latest NAS report, concluded in March 1997 that short term marijuana use appears to be suitable in treating conditions like chemotherapy-induced nausea for patients who do not respond well to other medications.
Currently, many oncologists are recommending marijuana to their patients despite its prohibition. Scientific and anecdotal evidence also suggests that marijuana is a valuable aid in reducing pain and suffering for patients with a variety of other serious ailments. For example, marijuana alleviates the nausea, vomiting, and the loss of appetite experienced by many AIDS patients without accelerating the rate at which HIV positive individuals develop clinical AIDS or other illnesses. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), marijuana increase[s] food enjoyment and the number of times individuals eat per day.
The most recent NAS report found cannabinoid drugs promising for treating wasting syndrome in AIDS patients,10 and recommended those patients unresponsive to conventional AIDS medications smoke marijuana to combat the wasting syndrome. 11 An earlier 1982 report by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) suggested that marijuana reduces intraocular pressure (IOP) in patients suffering from glaucoma, the leading cause of blindness in the United States.
A follow up 1994 report by the Australian federal government determined that, There is reasonable evidence for the potential efficacy of THC in the treatment of glaucoma, especially in cases which have proved resistant to existing anti-glaucoma agents, and recommended the drugs use under medically supervised conditions. 13 Clinical and anecdotal evidence also points to the effectiveness of marijuana as a therapeutic agent in the treatment of a variety of spastic conditions such as multiple sclerosis, paraplegia, epilepsy, and quadriplegia.
Animal studies and carefully controlled human studies support marijuana’s ability to suppress convulsions. In November 1998, Englands House of Lords Science and Technology Committee said they were convince[d] … that cannabis … certainly does have genuine medical applications … in treating the painful muscle spasms and other symptoms of MS, and recommended legalizing medical use of the drug. 14 The latest NAS report also noted marijuana seems to alleviate muscle spasms associated with MS. 15 Many patients and older Americans use marijuana therapeutically to control chronic pain.
NAS researchers found that, The available evidence from both animal and human studies indicates that cannabinoids can produce a significant analgesic effect. 16 Several recent scientific studies performed by researchers at the University of San Francisco and elsewhere demonstrate that compounds in marijuana modulate pain signals in much the same way as morphine and other opiates.
This new research led the Society of Neuroscience to pronounce that, Substances similar to or derived from marijuana, known as cannabinoids, could benefit the more than 97 million Americans who experience some form of pain each year. New research indicates that marijuana constituents appear to protect brain cells during a stroke. Researchers at the National Institute for Mental Health called compounds in marijuana potent antioxidants. 19 Doctors rely on antioxidants to protect stroke victims from toxic levels of a brain chemical called glutamate. Head trauma and strokes cause the release of excessive glutamate, often resulting in irreversible damage to brain cells.
In laboratory studies, marijuana compounds performed better than traditional antioxidants like vitamins C and E. Between 1978 and 1996, legislatures in 34 states and the District of Columbia passed laws recognizing marijuana’s therapeutic value. 21 Twenty-three of these laws remain in effect today. 22 Most recently, voters in Alaska, Oregon, Nevada, and Washington overwhelmingly adopted initiatives exempting patients who use marijuana under a physicians supervision from state criminal penalties. 23 These states joined voters in Arizona and California who passed similar initiatives recognizing marijuanas medical value in 1996.
These laws do not legalize marijuana or alter criminal penalties regarding the possession or cultivation of marijuana for recreational use. Nor do they establish a legal supply for patients to obtain the drug. They merely provide a narrow exemption from prosecution for defined patients who use marijuana with their doctors recommendation. Clearly, the American public distinguish between the medical use and recreational use of marijuana, and a majority support legalizing medical use for seriously ill patients.
A March 26, 1999 Gallup poll reported that seventy three percent of American support making marijuana available to doctors so they may prescribe it. 25 Basic compassion and common sense demand that we allow Americas seriously ill citizens to use whatever medication is most safe and effective to alleviate their pain and suffering. NORML first raised this issue in 1972 in an administrative petition asking federal authorities to move marijuana from schedule I to schedule II of the federal Controlled Substances Act so doctors may prescribe it.
After 16 years of legal battles and appeals, in 1988, the Drug Enforcement Administration’s own administrative law judge, Francis Young, found: Marijuana has been accepted as capable of relieving distress of great numbers of very ill people, and doing so with safety under medical supervision. It would be unreasonable, arbitrary and capricious for DEA to continue to stand between those sufferers and the benefits of this substance in light of the evidence in this record. 26 Young recommended that the Administrator transfer marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule II, to make it available as a legal medicine.
The DEA Administrator overruled Judge Young, and the Court of Appeals allowed that decision to stand, denying medical marijuana to seriously ill patients. Congress must act to correct this injustice. Representative Barney Frank (D-Mass) recently reintroduced legislation in Congress to provide for the medical use of marijuana. 28 House Bill 912, the Medical Use of Marijuana Act, would move marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule II under federal law, thereby making it legal for physicians to prescribe.
The rescheduling would remove cannabis from the list of drugs alleged to have no valid medical use, such as heroin and LSD, and put it in the same category as Marinol, morphine and cocaine. House Bill 912 is not a mandate from Washington and would not require any state to change its current laws. It is a states’ rights bill that acknowledges the will of the American people and would allow states to determine for themselves whether marijuana should be legal for medicinal use.
It is a common-sense solution to a complex issue and would provide a great deal of relief from suffering for a large number of people. NORML implores Congress to support this compassionate proposal to protect the ten of thousands of Americans who currently use marijuana as a medicine and the millions who would benefit from its legal access. Many seriously ill patients find marijuana the most effective way to relieve their pain and suffering and federal marijuana prohibition must not, in good conscience, continue to deny them that medication.