Dr. Sanjay Gupta: Why I changed my mind on weed
Dr. Sanjay Gupta: Why I changed my mind on weed – CNN.com
August 8, 2013 (CNN) — Over the last year, I have been working on a new documentary called “Weed.” … I traveled around the world to interview medical leaders, experts, growers and patients. I spoke candidly to them, asking tough questions. What I found was stunning.
Long before I began this project, I had steadily reviewed the scientific literature on medical marijuana from the United States and thought it was fairly unimpressive. Reading these papers five years ago, it was hard to make a case for medicinal marijuana. I even wrote about this in a TIME magazine article, back in 2009, titled “Why I would Vote No on Pot.”
Well, I am here to apologize.
I apologize because I didn’t look hard enough … I didn’t look far enough. I didn’t review papers from smaller labs in other countries doing some remarkable research, and I was too dismissive of the loud chorus of legitimate patients whose symptoms improved on cannabis. Instead, I lumped them with the high-visibility malingerers, just looking to get high. I mistakenly believed the Drug Enforcement Agency listed marijuana as a schedule 1 substance because of sound scientific proof.
[They listed marijuana in] the category of the most dangerous drugs that have “no accepted medicinal use and a high potential for abuse. “They didn’t have the science to support that claim, and I now know that when it comes to marijuana neither of those things are true. It doesn’t have a high potential for abuse, and there are very legitimate medical applications. In fact, sometimes marijuana is the only thing that works. Take the case of Charlotte Figi … She started having seizures soon after birth. By age 3, she was having 300 a week, despite being on seven different medications. Medical marijuana has calmed her brain, limiting her seizures to 2 or 3 per month.
I have seen more patients like Charlotte first hand … and come to the realization that it is irresponsible not to provide the best care we can as a medical community, care that could involve marijuana. We have been terribly and systematically misled for nearly 70 years in the United States, and I apologize for my own role in that. … On August 14, 1970, the Assistant Secretary of Health, Dr. Roger O. Egeberg wrote a letter recommending the plant, marijuana, be classified as a schedule 1 substance, and it has remained that way for nearly 45 years … Egeberg did in fact have important research already available to him, some of it from more than 25 years earlier.
High risk of abuse
In 1944, New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia commissioned research … [that] found marijuana did not lead to significant addiction in the medical sense of the word. They also did not find any evidence marijuana led to
morphine, heroin or cocaine addiction.
We now know that while estimates vary, marijuana leads to dependence in around 9 to 10% of its adult users. By comparison, cocaine, a schedule 2 substance, … hooks 20% of those who use it. Around 25% of heroin users become addicted.
The worst is tobacco, where the number is closer to 30% of smokers, many of whom go on to die because of their addiction.
… [I]n some people marijuana use can lead to withdrawal symptoms, including insomnia, anxiety and nausea. Even considering this, it is hard to make a case that it has a high potential for abuse. I do want to mention a concern that I think about as a father. Young, developing brains are likely more susceptible to harm from marijuana than adult brains. Some recent studies suggest that regular use in teenage years leads to a permanent decrease in IQ. Other research hints at a possible heightened risk of developing psychosis. Much in the same way I wouldn’t let my own children drink alcohol, I wouldn’t permit marijuana until they are adults…
… Medical marijuana is not new, and the medical community has been writing about it for a long time. There were in fact hundreds of journal articles, mostly documenting the benefits … written between the years 1840 and 1930. The papers described the use of medical marijuana to treat “neuralgia, convulsive disorders, emaciation,” among other things. … I calculated about 6% of the current U.S. marijuana studies investigate the benefits of medical marijuana. The rest are designed to investigate harm. That imbalance paints a highly distorted picture.
The challenges of marijuana research
To do studies on marijuana in the United States today, you need two important things.
First of all, you need marijuana. And marijuana is illegal. … Scientists can get research marijuana from a special farm in Mississippi … located in the middle of the Ole Miss campus… When I visited this year, there was no marijuana being grown.
The second thing you need is approval … [from] NIDA, the National Institute on Drug Abuse. It is an organization that has a core mission of studying drug abuse, as opposed to benefit. Stuck in the middle are the legitimate patients who depend on marijuana as a medicine.
…[U]ntil 1943, marijuana was part of the United States drug pharmacopeia. One of the conditions for which it was prescribed was neuropathic pain … While marijuana has long been documented to be effective for this awful pain, the most common medications prescribed today come from the poppy plant, including morphine, oxycodone and dilaudid.
Here is the problem. Most of these medications don’t work very well for this kind of pain, and tolerance is a real problem.
… [S]omeone dies in the United States every 19 minutes from a prescription drug overdose, mostly accidental… As much as I searched, I could not find a documented case of death from marijuana overdose.
… 76% of physicians recently surveyed said they would approve the use of marijuana to help ease a woman’s pain from breast cancer.