Monday, July 4, 2016

The pros and cons of medical marijuana

Oregon Medical Marijuana Program ID card and marijuana plant
Bill Underwood

Marijuana is now legal to use for medical purposes in 14 states. Five states, including Arizona, are considering laws that would make its use legal without a medical need. But from a federal standpoint, possession is still a crime in all 50 states.

Up until the late 1800s, marijuana farming was common, even encouraged. The fibrous cannabis plant, called hemp by most growers, was a terrific source for paper, rope and fabric. The word “canvas,” in fact, stems from the word “cannabis.”

According to some sources, the war against marijuana was spurred in the 1920s and 1930s by William Randolph Hearst’s newspaper empire, and/or by DuPont Chemical. Hearst had significant timber holdings and was afraid they would be devalued by a growing hemp-based paper industry, and DuPont wanted people to use their newly created oil-based nylon rather than hemp. (Bear in mind, however, that the ‘sources’ to which I refer are pro-marijuana-legalization sites.)

“William Randolph Hearst hated minorities, and he used his chain of newspapers to aggravate racial tensions at every opportunity. Hearst especially hated Mexicans. Hearst papers portrayed Mexicans as lazy, degenerate, and violent, and as marijuana smokers and job stealers. The real motive behind this prejudice may well have been that Hearst had lost 800,000 acres of prime timberland to the rebel Pancho Villa,” says one of his biographies. In fact, his newspapers consistently used the word “marijuana” rather than hemp or cannabis, because of the word’s Mexican connotation.

According to the DEA:
• “Marijuana is “addictive, and has no medical benefits that cannot be obtained from legal medicines.” 
• “In 1999, more than 200,000 Americans entered substance abuse treatment primarily for marijuana abuse and dependence.” 
• “The Institute of Medicine conducted a comprehensive study in 1999 to assess the potential health benefits of marijuana and its constituent cannabinoids. The study concluded that smoking marijuana is not recommended for the treatment of any diseasecondition. In addition, there are more effective medications currently available.”
• Marijuana contributes to crime. “Nationwide, 40 percent of adult males tested positive for marijuana at the time of their arrest.”
• Marijuana is a ‘gateway’ drug. “Very few young people use other illegal drugs without first trying marijuana. While not all people who use marijuana go on to use other drugs, using marijuana sometimes lowers inhibitions about drug use and exposes users to a culture that encourages use of other drugs.”
• “According to the National Institutes of Health, studies show that someone who smokes five joints per week may be taking in as many cancer-causing chemicals as someone who smokes a full pack of cigarettes every day.”

Given all this, then, why would the U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announce, as he did on October 19, 2009, “It will not be a priority to use federal resources to prosecute patients with serious illnesses or their caregivers who are complying with state laws on medical marijuana?”

Because,  more than 300,000 people across the country are using marijuana for medical reasons, despite the DEA’s claims that it has no medicinal value.

That shouldn’t be surprising: my brother and sister-in-law use the cooking herb turmeric for muscle and stomach pain. The AMA may not acknowledge any medicinal value to it, but don’t try to take it away from my brother. He has told me of his wife waking up crying with leg cramps, that go away within minutes of taking turmeric. And there are, of course, many other ‘alternative’ health cures that users swear by.

On a recent trip to Oregon I had occasion to visit with a medical marijuana user I’ll call John. 
John has suffered for years with arthritis and neuropathy in his feet. “Sometimes, when I get up in the morning and put my feet on the floor, I fall flat on my face,” he says. Before using marijuana, he took Vicodan nearly every day, but he got tired of living in a fog. “Plus, it’s expensive.” He was spending $60 to $70 a month on Vicodan before he got approved to grow and use marijuana.

He is affiliated with an organization called Oregon Green Freedom, who helped him get started growing a marijuana strain called “Agent Orange.” Under Oregon law he may have in his possession at any given time 18 juvenile plants and 6 mature plants. He grows it organically. “I’ve tasted some that was grown in pots indoors, and you can taste the Miracle-Gro,” he says. I didn’t ask whether he could taste the horse manure he fertilizes his plants with.

John puts about 2 ounces of marijuana buds in a quart of glycerin, and lets it steep for a couple months. Only the buds are used. “The rest of the plant just becomes compost.”
I asked about getting high. He said, “buds harvested early are better for pain relief; a later harvest produces more of a high. So I harvest early.”

He uses about a tablespoon a day of the tincture to control the pain of the arthritis and neuropathy. It also helped him with the nausea of chemotherapy last year when he had cancer. The tincture takes about 30 minutes to work. Would smoking it work faster? “It might, but smoked marijuana tends to go to your head. I need it to go to my feet.”

In researching this, I found a case of a man who had used marijuana recreationally and stopped when he became a Christian; then, when he decided to begin using marijuana medicinally, the temptation of having the plants in the house was too much for him. But John never liked the effect from the smoke.

Furthermore, “As a Christian,” he said, “there are certain Bible principles I need to comply with, for the sake of my conscience.” What principles? He listed them: ‘Cleanse yourselves of every defilement of the flesh’ (2 Corinthians 7:1). “Smoking pot would ‘defile’ my hair, my clothes, and my home.” He is also aware of 1 Corinthians 15:33, "Bad company corrupts good character." So he has to be careful that marijuana use doesn’t bring him into company with the illicit drug community.

The principle of 2 Timothy 4:5, “You should keep a clear mind in every situation,” certainly rules out recreational drug use, but can’t really be applied to medical patients, or else Christians would have to avoid all pain remediation. But what about addiction? Romans 6:16 does say, after all, “Don’t you realize that you become the slave of whatever you choose to obey?” John says that’s not a problem; for him, at least, his marijuana tincture is not addictive. “Vicodan, that was really addictive.”

Still, John acknowledges, it is a controversial matter. There is a significant stigma attached to marijuana use, and he doesn’t want to be seen as a “stoner.” When he recently requested approval for additional privileges in his congregation, a lengthy discussion ensued. Even though he has the approval of the state of Oregon, he is technically breaking federal law, making the principle at Romans 13:1 about obeying the governmental authorities a matter for his conscience. He also, at the request of the congregation, stopped supplying marijuana to other legal users who lack their own growing space, because he doesn’t want to be responsible for how they use it.

A few months ago he took a road trip across the U.S. and had to leave the tincture at home, as his user I.D. card is only valid in Oregon. So he had to pull out the Vicodan. “Which is ironic,” he said. Why? Because, he says, he knows how soon he’s safe to drive after taking the tincture, but he feels less sure of his abilities after taking Vicodan.

Speaking of driving: Since he has to carry the I.D. card at all times, if he were involved in an accident, he would be pretty much automatically at fault. A police officer seeing the card would likely send him for a urine test, which he would fail even if he hadn’t used the tincture in several days.

One of my preconceptions was that people are making up symptoms to legally get stoned. John says there is probably some of that, but, in Oregon at least, it requires a two-year medical history, as well as a lot of other hoops to jump through, to get on the program. “I doubt if too many people would go to the trouble.”

There has been relatively little research into the efficacy of marijuana. However, that is in part due to the fact that it is illegal. If you are a scientist wanting to research the medical benefits of marijuana, there is only one legal source: A government-managed plot of about 500 plants at the University of Mississippi. It is widely believed that ‘street marijuana’ is considerably more potent than the strain grown at the university.

With the growth of alternative health products, and the growing movement to legalize marijuana, if you don’t currently know someone who has considered using marijuana medicinally, you likely will in the near future.

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