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The State of the Research: Medical Marijuana

There is no reason to reschedule marijuana to get more research.  Pharmaceutical companies are working to develop cannabis-based products that could possibly treat medical conditions without giving you the high.   The federal government lists 274 studies exploring the medical applications for THC, and 597 studies investigating medical properties of CBD.

In February 2018, Canadian Family Physicians devoted a monthly periodical to the research on medical marijuana.  The editorial said: “Evidence indicates the most consistent events of medical marijuana are adverse events.  A variety of adverse events have a greater magnitude of effect than the potential benefits for the conditions targeted.”

Epidiolex, a medicine made by GW Pharmaceuticals to treat two types of childhood epilepsy has been approved by the FDA.  However, there are mixed results for the use of cannabidiol in children with intractable seizures, with 30% benefiting somewhat but 47% experiencing important side effects, including some with increased seizures.

Many clinical trials of medical marijuana are not going that well.  GW Pharmaceutical shares fell markedly with the announcement that Sativex performed no better than a sugar pill for cancer pain Sativex has been deemed by the British health care system to be too costly for the modest benefit (18% improvement) it delivers for the spasticity of multiple sclerosis, while showing no benefit for the pain, and as mentioned in the last newsletter, a PTSD study presented at a recent conference reported that marijuana users with this disorder made significantly less progress towards recovery and were more violent than nonusers.

Major pharmaceutical companies have the money to absorb such failures in their projected market, when the failures occur.   Contrary to popular belief, there are many studies into the possible medical properties of the marijuana plant.

For years, there has been talk of smoking cannabis–marijuana–to lower eye pressure for patients with Glaucoma.   The Glaucoma Research Foundation also believes current medications work better than marijuana.  Another problem with cannabis is that its effects don’t last as long as the current medications.

The Medical Marijuana Hoax, Part 2: Mental Health

Medical marijuana tries to bypass discussion of the mental health risks.  Marijuana is linked to long-term psychiatric problems such as schizophrenia, anxiety and psychosis.  There is mounting research to suggest that youth usage of marijuana greatly increases the chance for both depression and suicide, as recently reported in the The Lancet Psychiatry Journal.

The PTSD Marketing Strategy

It was a good publicity stunt, but a cruel trick.  The marijuana industry recently staged an event in Denver to attract veterans. They gave out free marijuana for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  PTSD is very real, and it’s a condition to be taken seriously.

The medical community should find solutions that would bring veterans back to their previous state of functioning before combat.  Louis Zamperini, the hero of a book by Laura Hillenbrand and movie directed by Angelina Jolie, Unbroken, had severe PTSD from World War II.  He had been beaten in a Japanese prison camp and lost at sea 46 days on a raft. It’s unlikely he would have healed and charged forward so well if marijuana had been offered as the solution.  The movie will be in theaters on December 25.

Marijuana numbs certain emotions.  It also effects memory.  PTSD symptoms are different for different people, but it can include numbness, too.  If fear, numbness and depression are present with PTSD, there should be a means that re-build connection to everyday life, rather than avoid the reality of life.  Dogs and Yoga are amongst the best treatments for rebuilding connection.  Time is a great healer, too.

Handing out free so-called “marijuana medicine” makes a mockery of recovery.  It’s hoped our veterans could get back to work and not face long-term disability.   Keeping “patients” addicted and under the thumb of medical marijuana industry may do the opposite.  The best book on the subject, Judith Lewis Herman’s Trauma and Recovery, doesn’t suggest masking memoryOur first choice should always be therapies that go to the root of the problem, rather than masking the symptoms.  Medical marijuana has the potential for masking symptoms.  It also risks making a person apathetic and numb.  It could give the illusion of getting better without deep healing.

Why does marijuana cause dependency?  As explained in a testimony, marijuana usage interferes with the natural processes and messes with brain chemistry.   After stopping marijuana use, irritability, anxiety, depression, nervousness, restlessness, insomnia and and suicide can be part of marijuana withdrawal.   As time can heal marijuana withdrawal symptoms, time can heal PTSD.  If we want veterans to not be permanently disabled, Congress should not allow marijuana for veterans suffering from PTSD.

A Cruel Attempt to Treat Psychiatric Disorders

Marijuana may increase the burden of mental illness.  It is well-known in medical circles that marijuana makes the course of mental illness worse and successful treatment less likely.  In fact, marijuana is the most common illicit drug to trigger a psychiatric disorder.   For this reason, extreme caution should be taken before recommending marijuana to anyone, for any reason.

There’s strong evidence that mental illness is increasing in America. According to Robert Whitaker, author of Mad in America and Anatomy of an Epidemic, an increase in bi-polar disorder is driven in part by the expansion of diagnostic boundaries, but it is also being fueled by the widespread use of illicit drugs.

Whitaker explains that studies of first episode bipolar patients, roughly 1/3 suffered their first bout of mania or mood instability after they had abused illicit drugs — amphetamines, cocaine, marijuana and hallucinogens.  Marijuana, as the most widespread of the illicit drugs, poses the most risk.  (See 10 Marijuana Myths Advocates want you to Believe)

A culture of medication teaches our children to look for easy solutions; it may be influencing the widespread desire to self-medicate with marijuana and other drugs. Psychiatric medications are over-prescribed — anti-depressants, as well as anti-psychotics and ADHD medications.  Whitaker also believes that the use of psychiatric stimulants and anti-depressants increases the risk of getting the bipolar diagnosis.

Does-weed-kill-brain-cells2
The cannabinoid neurotransmitter, anandamide, may be displaced with marijuana use over time, giving users withdrawal symptoms when they quit, including anxiety, depression.

Leafly, a cannabis company in Seattle run Privateer Holdings, solicits users by advertising  88 strains of marijuana to cure bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety and ADHD.  This type of advertising should be censored due to the lack of evidence and high risk for psychosis that comes with marijuana.  Any psychiatric treatment demands strict oversight by a qualified medical practitioner, and is often done on a test basis. Medical marijuana “providers” often don’t have to meet standards or qualifications, other than being at least 21 years old.

Prevention over Substituting Addictions

Those who disagree with medical marijuana do not necessarily advocate for the alcohol or pharmaceutical industry.

Some of us notice that people who become addicted to any drug usually began their drug usage with marijuana, which is another reason we wish to prevent youth from using it at all costs.   In fact, when it comes to teens and young adults, addicts almost always begin their drug usage as a marijuana user.   The marijuana industry gives lip service to wanting to keep it from those under age 21, while using the social media and other tactics try to get young people to support them.

Opiate Addiction Solved by Marijuana ????

Recently an article suggested that marijuana can be a tool to beating opiate addiction,  because of a study which opined that states with medical marijuana have fewer opiate overdose deaths. The study shouldn’t be interpreted as proof that medical marijuana brought a drop in opiate use or death.

States with the highest marijuana usage, including use by ages 12-17,  tend to also have the highest opiate pill, cocaine and heroin usage.   Oregon, Colorado and Vermont will need to limit youth marijuana usage, if they truly want to bring down other problems.  To  a certain extent the current heroin problem has arisen because people addicted to the opiate pills have been unable to get the pills.

The logical way to avoid death by opiate overdose is to keep it in the hands of only those who need it, teach responsible use, and avoid over-prescribing.  Not everyone who uses opiate pills needs to get addicted.  Many people use vicodin, percocet and oxycontin only for the limited duration until the pain is gone.   Twisted, illogical thinking is suggesting that we must substitute one addiction with a drug that can also work on the mind and cause psychosis.

If we are to solve the problem of addiction in a lasting way, we need to help children and teens not begin to use.  We emphasize proper usage, not substituting one addiction for another, or “lilypadding” from drug to drug.  Prevention before abuse starts has the BEST chance of success.

Civil Rights, Drug Wars, Policy, Washington, DC

(Part 2 , see Part 1 – Our first article is about why African-Americans are less supportive of legalization than outsider groups who are trying to impose it on Washington, DC and elsewhere.)

Discussion of marijuana legalization centers mainly on personal freedom, flaws in the criminal justice system, and a theory that government can regulate it and take profits away from cartels and criminals.  There is no evidence that it is possible to regulate marijuana, and black markets persist in Washington and Colorado.  Since the regulation theory has largely been disproven by the two states and by studies, this article concentrates on criminal justice.

Can anyone truly believe legalizing marijuana would end racial discrimination in America? (Recent evidence in Denver and Seattle after the legalization of marijuana in Seattle suggests that racial discrepancies in arrests don’t end.)  However, these disparities are the main reasons people cite for supporting legalization of pot in Washington, DC.

Taking on the ACLU Positions

Metropolitan Police Chief Cathy L Lanier addressed the racial divide in arrests in the Washington Post.  Some of her comments specifically responded to a American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) report.

Washington, DC, Police Chief Cathy Lanier
Washington, DC, Police Chief Cathy Lanier

“The ACLU also appears not to understand our city very well,” she wrote. “It is, indeed, a sad fact that blacks represent a disproportionate number of arrestees in the District; the proportions are similar for marijuana arrests, for other narcotics and all arrests.  But this is a complex issue that cannot be boiled down to an allegation that MPD (Metropolitan Police) selectively enforces the law against our black communities.”

Lanier points out that police in certain neighborhoods received a higher volume of calls from residents complaining about drugs, and that 59% of the police officers are black, a proportion higher than the city’s population.  Blacks are arrested more for marijuana because they tend to smoke it in public among groups, unlike whites who more often smoke in the privacy of their residence or clubs.

Cathy Lanier is the most popular citywide public figure in Washington, DC, with an approval rating over 70%.

Drug Policy in General

Chief Lanier emphasized that the police department in Washington, DC, is strongly committed to supporting youth.  The goal is to prevent youths from ending up in the criminal justice system for a minor transgression. Since she has been in the police department for 24 years and chief of police for seven, she has first-hand knowledge which the ACLU lacks.  She realizes that where there is already criminal activity, trying to put the marijuana under regulations may mean that criminals would branch out to other forms of crime and selling other drugs.

Much of the country agrees with rehabilitating drug addicts and drug abusers, rather than punishment.  While states vary, the drug treatment model is becoming more prevalent.   Transforming our drug policy rather than adopting complete tolerance and normalization of drugs  is a wiser policy.  The answer is not legalization.

We need a non-partisan national discussion, that considers all sides of the issue.  Mandatory minimum sentences don’t accomplish the goals desired when they were established. Three strikes laws should be abolished.  Prisons-for-profit aren’t allowed in most of the country, but they could also be banned.

“War on Drugs” Rhetoric

The idea that the “war on drugs” is a war on black and Hispanic communities is too simplistic to explain a situation.   The ACLU, which has had an important stake in legalization efforts in Maine and Washington (2 states with low African-American and Hispanic populations), uses this arguments to press legalization of drugs.

Wealthy white drug dealers can probably afford more expensive lawyers than minority drug dealers, a different matter.  Black males have been disproportionately jailed for violating drug laws.  Michelle Alexander, who wrote The New Jim Crow, supports legalization of all drugs.  However, she is now lamenting that legalization has benefited the white males who are now making all the profits.

The cause of racial problems of the United States and drug violence in Central America shouldn’t be seen as one-dimensional issues.  The argument that the violence of drug gangs and cartels is caused by US policy shows a lack of understanding of the nature of drugs.

The drug policy – violence theory also demonstrates a poor understanding of the nature of humanity.  Gangs and cartels are money-making paths that bring profits quickly.  Anyone can be lured into the profit motive without fully thinking of the harm, particularly when a person is young and risky behaviors make it seem exciting.  There is a certain “high” that comes from evading the law.

Criminal businesses will be always be attractive to both the rich and the poor.  Some cartel leaders are well-educated and even rich.  If it were only about income inequality, many would get out of the drug trade sooner.  We need to foster opportunities for the poor, so they don’t see drug dealing as a route out of poverty.  Regardless of circumstances, they’re hungry for power and wouldn’t lose power over people, if pot became legal. They would branch out to other crimes such as human trafficking, and to other drugs.

Benicio del Toro in the 2012 film Savages
Benicio del Toro in the 2012 film Savages

 When Drug Wars Occur

Drug wars happen when growers and cartels compete to have the strongest, most potent strains of marijuana.   High-THC plants bring higher profits, but the marijuana industry pretends that government is to blame for the greedy, violent wars between drug cartels.

We can see the violence that comes with the competition in the drug trade in the book and movie, Savages of 2012, with Benicio del Toro.  An earlier movie  Blow, in which Johnny Depp played notorious drug dealer George Jung, tries to illicit sympathy for the criminal who was instrumental in bringing the Columbian cocaine trade to the USA.  It is clear that greed and adventure motivated Jung, without concern about the harmful consequences to others.

Marijuana advocates who say “drug wars don’t work,”  play into current anti-government sentiments.  They say those who don’t agree with marijuana must be taking money from the drug-making companies, the police unions, alcohol industry, the prison or prison guard industry.  Otherwise, how could anyone not believe in their psychotropic drug that has been manipulated — to become stronger and to work medical miracles, as they claim? In their twisted logic, they say the US has created cartel violence in Mexico. Violence of course has many causes including poverty.   On the other hand, there is evidence that cartels have moved out of Colorado into Central America, and are causing our heroin epidemic today.