“I think most people agree that it’s time for us to decriminalize marijuana,” said Thompson, executive director of the Michigan Association of Compassion Centers.
“At the turn of the (last century, circa 1900) people grew it in their garden like mint and rosemary. It was used for ailments such as pain management and insomnia, Parkinson’s disease, migraines and rheumatoid arthritis.”
Today, Thompson said, a growing number of doctors are coming out in support of the herb’s medicinal value.
“With government less able to provide assistance to low income families, vets and seniors, these people need an alternative to treat the illnesses they face,” he said. “Marijuana is no more dangerous than anything else we allow our society to consume. The best way to help these people is to stay out of their way.”
Marijuana was banned in 1937 as part of pro-pharmaceutical industry legislation supported by Dow Chemical and newspaper baron William Randolph Hearst, Thompson said.
While research is inconclusive, recent studies link marijuana to the remission of cancer growth in rats and test tubes, and reduced inflammation in elderly rat brains diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.
In small quantities, marijuana similarly has been shown to decrease depression in rats, while larger quantities appear to increase it.
Pain control, appetite stimulation, relief from restless leg syndrome, nausea and insomnia are currently the top five therapeutic applications for marijuana, Thompson said.
Beyond that, marijuana is effective in treating “hundreds” of ailments, he added, including cancer and AIDS, and as an anti-spasmodic for those living with epilepsy and Parkinson’s.
“I’ve spent about a million dollars to control my skin cancer,” Mike McShane of Ferndale said. “I’ve had surgeries, chemo and radiation — but it always comes back. I heard (marijuana) oil was effective, so this summer I started a 10-week treatment program. Nothing has helped me more than marijuana. Everybody knows cancer doesn’t go away — it grows. Yet mine is receding.”
The active ingredient in marijuana is THC, short for delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol.
Within minutes of smoking pot, THC is absorbed into the body, causing short-term medical effects such as rapid heart rate, increased blood pressure, red eyes, dry mouth, increased appetite and reduced reaction time, according to the Partnership for a Drug Free America.
These effects remain in the system for several hours after the “euphoria” or “high” wears off, continuing to cause impairment, according the group.
Distorted perception of reality and short-term memory lapse are the most dangerous side effects, said Kevin Friedrich, prevention and community programs director for Community Assessment Referral and Education in Fraser.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, marijuana, “pot,” “weed,” or “herb,” which comes from the hemp plant Cannabis sativa, is the most frequently used illegal drug in America.
About 4% of adults in the United States smoke pot at least once a year. Roughly 1% of them abuse pot and one in 300 are addicted, according to the Partnership for a Drug Free America.
Though the rate of marijuana smoking in adults has remained constant since the 1990s, recent government studies show that 30 percent of today’s teenagers are smoking pot.
Friedrich is not surprised.
“After the medical marijuana law was passed, youth begin to generally view it as less harmful,” Friedrich said. “It’s proven: When the perception of risk declines, use increases. And current surveys show youth perceive smoking cigarettes as more dangerous than smoking marijuana.”
With the long-term mental impairment side effects of smoking marijuana established, Friedrich called the thought of drugged driving in youth “scary”; one of the biggest long-term effects is lung cancer.
“Smoking cigarettes is extremely harmful to the body,” Friedrich said. “It stands to reason that smoking marijuana would be at least as harmful; 90% of marijuana is smoked.”
Marijuana smoke contains 50% to 70% more carcinogenic hydrocarbons than does tobacco smoke, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Similarly, the Partnership for a Drug Free American reports “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 a day.”
“At this time, the known risks of marijuana use have not been shown to be outweighed by specific benefits in well-controlled clinical trials that scientifically evaluate safety and efficacy,” said Michelle Leonhart, U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration administrator.
With these risks and benefits in mind, does the federal government have the right to prevent those suffering from chronic pain, disability or terminal illness from exploring every possible solution, despite the potentially dangerous side effects?
Thompson, and others like him, says no.
“Many people can’t afford prescription drugs,” he said. “We need to add alternatives to the pharmaceutical model. The citizens of this country should not have to wait another day for effective and affordable medicinal therapies that could save their lives.”
30 September, 2011
Maryanne Kocis MacLeod
Journal Register News Service
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