Miracle or Myth?
The use of drugs is not in itself an irresponsible act. Medical and scientific uses serve important individual and social needs and are often essential to our physical and mental well-being. Further, the use of drugs for pleasure or other non-medical purposes is not inherently irresponsible.
Marihuana: A Signal of Misunderstanding National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse Report
Commissioned by President Richard M. Nixon, March, 1972
What if the American government, after decades of study and volumes of published medical, scientific and legal research, knows that marijuana is not nearly as dangerous as it's been made out to be, and actually does have proven medical benefits?
It's not difficult to imagine why President Nixon found the conclusions of his 1972 National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse an infuriating betrayal: "We would de-emphasize marihuana as a problem," was not the recommendation the federal government was looking for as an evaluation of America's perceived drug problem.
For decades, marijuana had been associated with degradation, insanity, criminality, and social deviance. "A vicious racket with its arms around your children!" was how the 1938 government-sponsored film Reefer Madness described it, and neither Nixon nor the post-1960s conservative groundswell of anti-drug advocates were interested in any contrary evidence.
Nixon ultimately ignored and suppressed the findings of the Commission, and more than 30 years later the American government continues to maintain positions and policies characterizing marijuana as a social ill with multiple dangers and no redeeming medical value.
According to Indiana Congressman Mark Souder, the use of marijuana for medical purposes is "quackery" and "a myth." As chairman of the House Subcommittee that oversees the nation's drug policy, Souder's opinion echoes that of federal agencies like the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA).
According to the DEA, "Marijuana is a dangerous, addictive drug that poses significant health threats to users. Marijuana has no medical value that can't be met more effectively by legal drugs. Drug legalizers use medical marijuana as a red herring in effort to advocate broader legalization of drug use."
These statements are presented as fact, and are the basis for nearly all public policy and federal law concerning marijuana, not to mention the "evidence" cited by opponents of medical marijuana like Congressman Souder [for more on Souder, see sidebar]. Opposing viewpoints, indeed contradictory scientific, medical, and legal research, are rarely given credence.
However, an examination of the facts about marijuana demonstrates that the most common and dangerous myths about America's most widely used illegal drug and its medicinal value are actually those perpetuated by the federal government itself.
The most dangerous drug in America?
Nearly all medicines have toxic, potentially lethal effects. But marijuana is not such a substance. There is no record in the extensive medical literature describing a proven, documented cannabis-induced fatality. This is a remarkable statement.
Chief Administrative Law Judge
US Drug Enforcement Agency
Mike McCoy has Hepatitis C, an incurable and terminal disease that caused him to have both his pancreas and his spleen surgically removed. In the past 18 months, McCoy has twice been arrested for misdemeanor marijuana possession and now faces felony charges as a "repeat offender" under Indiana law.
Speaking from his rural Indiana home, the 64-year-old has neither fear nor shame about his use of marijuana as medicine, despite his arrests and possible conviction.
"Since the surgery, I can barely eat. I've got no appetite and everything I put in my mouth tastes like dirt. But when I smoke, I can eat a little. Without marijuana, I'd probably just shrivel up and die. It's the only thing that helps me keep food down," he says with conviction.
"They got me for two or three joints the first time. I figured they'd give me a ticket or something, I'd pay a hundred bucks and that would be the end of it. But six months later, a whole damn team of deputies surrounds my house and they find me with marijuana again."
Despite his age and medical condition, local authorities are going forward with their prosecution of McCoy.
"I can't work, but I get about $600 a month from Social Security. I've got a Public Defender, and he's pretty good. I'll probably be dead in a year - I know it, my doctors know it, my attorney knows it, and so do the cops. So the case will probably just keep getting postponed," he says with a sigh, "and then I'll die and it will all go away."
"The harms must not be overstated"
In 1996, the British government commissioned a study of all available data about the use of marijuana in response to growing calls for its legalized medical use. Two years later, the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee issued its report "Cannabis: The Scientific and Medical Evidence."
In its conclusion, the report states "The harms must not be overstated: cannabis is neither poisonous, nor highly addictive. However, it is not harmless." The following is a summary of the report's findings. The complete report is available at http://www.parliament.the-stationery-office.co.uk
* No one has ever died as a result of recreational or medicinal use of marijuana.
* The occurrence of a so-called "anti-motivational syndrome" in users is now generally discounted.
* There is no evidence that cannabis adversely affects human fertility, or that it causes chromosomal or genetic damage.
* The consumption of cannabis by pregnant women has the same effect and consequences as the effects of smoking tobacco while pregnant.
* Heavy cannabis smokers suffer from an increased incidence of respiratory disorders such as cough, bronchitis, and asthma; these are on par with tobacco use.
* It can have adverse psychic effects ranging from temporary distress to the exacerbation of pre-existing conditions such as schizophrenia.
* It increases the heart rate and lowers blood pressure, posing a risk to users with cardiovascular conditions.
* It is possible, though not proven, that it increases the risk of cancer in the mouth, throat, and lungs.
* Giving up or quitting cannabis use is relatively easy for the vast majority of users.
The main argument against medical marijuana (aside from the fact that it is illegal) is the claim that the drug is so dangerous any good it could possibly do for terminally ill patients like McCoy is far outweighed by the harm it causes.
In April 2004, Congressman Souder stated during a Congressional hearing on medical marijuana, which he chaired, "The negative benefits of marijuana are well known and have been proven in scientific studies. Among other things, the drug is addictive, impairs brain function, and when smoked, greatly increases the risk of lung cancer."
As part of its public awareness campaign against marijuana use, both recreational and medical, the DEA provides a pamphlet titled "Marijuana: The Facts." The FAQ document begins with the question, "Does marijuana pose health risks to users?"
Any discussion of the risks of marijuana must begin with the same fact DEA Judge Francis Young found so compelling nearly two decades ago - in the nearly 5,000 years of its recorded use, including at least 4,000 years of its use as an intoxicant, not one single death has ever occurred as a result of marijuana use.
While this statistic, or rather lack of a statistic, is impressive enough, it becomes even more relevant when compared to the lethal occurrences resulting from legal drug use.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) 400,000 Americans die each year from cigarette smoking. Another 100,000 die in alcohol related incidents. When intentional and unintentional deaths of prescribed medications and other legal drugs are tallied, the total exceeds one million deaths every year, including the thousands of Americans who die as a result of taking aspirin and other over-the-counter medications.
Like all drugs, legal or otherwise, using marijuana does present health risks to the user [see "The harms must not be overstated" sidebar]. The most familiar short-term effect of marijuana is a state of intoxication. As a result, psychomotor and cognitive functions are impaired, and driving or operating heavy machinery would be both foolhardy and dangerous. But the majority of health risks detailed by opponents of marijuana are typically more ominous and more distorted.
Congressman Souder and other opponents of medical marijuana frequently cite the risk of cancer as evidence of the drug's dangers. The basis for the cancer claim comes from the logic that both marijuana and tobacco are smoked and since cigarettes cause cancer when smoked, marijuana "might" cause cancer when smoked. However, not a single documented case of cancer has ever been linked to marijuana smoking.
According to a comprehensive study conducted by the British government, "While there are some reports of an increased risk of cancer in the mouth, throat, and lungs in cannabis users, no cause and effect relationship has ever been established."
Studies have shown, however, that heavy smokers of marijuana do suffer from an increased incidence of respiratory disorders such as cough, bronchitis, and asthma. But, as the British government reports, "these are on par with tobacco use."
Even the staunchest supporters of marijuana concede that it is not a harmless drug. Jay Burns of Indiana NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) is both an advocate for marijuana legalization and an outspoken critic of distorted health information about marijuana use.
"No drug is 'harmless,' and groups like ours don't claim that marijuana is harmless. But the fact is that marijuana is one of the safest drugs out there. And yes, smoking does cause health problems. But people who smoke cigarettes usually smoke one or two packs a day. People who smoke marijuana don't smoke nearly that much. Any health risk that comes with smoking is a lot greater with cigarettes than pot."
According to scientific research, Burns is a lot closer to the truth than the federal government.
The NIH cites a study conducted by researchers at the University of California concluding that "heavy" use of smoked marijuana results in respiratory problems. By the study's own definition, these are people who have smoked three or four joints every day for more than ten years.
According to a survey conducted by the US Department of Health and Human Services in 2000, approximately one-third of all Americans (83 million) over the age of 12 have smoked marijuana at least once in their lifetime.
Of those who have tried marijuana, approximately 25 percent (21 million Americans) do so "occasionally," meaning they have done so at least once in the previous year; 15 percent (12.5 million Americans) are "frequent" users smoking marijuana at least once in the previous month; and three percent (2.5 million Americans) are "regular" users who admit to smoking marijuana on a daily basis.
Therefore, of the more than 21 million Americans smoking marijuana in a given year, an unknown and relatively small percentage (less than three percent) who smoke an average of three to five joints a day for more than ten years are at risk for developing respiratory problems.
In another example, the DEA claims, "the risk of a heart attack is five times higher than usual in the hour after smoking marijuana." What they fail to explain, however, is according to the full text of the Harvard University study cited, the "risk of a heart attack in the hour after smoking marijuana is five times greater for those with a history of angina or other cardiovascular disease." Overall, the study concluded that the risk of a heart attack was both "minor" and "short-term."
Perhaps the most distorted argument against the use of marijuana is the claim that the drug is highly addictive.
"Marijuana is highly addictive," the DEA warns. "Users can become dependent on marijuana to the point they must seek treatment to stop abusing it. In 1999, more than 200,000 Americans entered substance abuse treatment primarily for marijuana abuse and dependence."
Like all drugs, there is a potential for abuse and addiction by those who smoke marijuana. But the government's own statistics again prove that the allegations about marijuana's addictive properties are grossly overstated.
For the sake of argument, let's assume that the DEA is correct and 200,000 Americans enter treatment for marijuana dependence annually (though this number is by the government's own admission not for marijuana dependence alone, and does not account for those forced to enter treatment as a result of arrest whether they are dependent or not), the DEA's 200,000 "addicts" represent less than one percent of 21 million Americans who use the drug each year and less than ten percent of those "regular" users smoking marijuana on a daily basis.
As further evidence of the exaggeration, consider the CDC's statistic that "more than 700,000 Americans receive treatment for alcohol abuse on any given day." Even if all of these figures were accurate, this means that three times as many Americans seek treatment on a daily basis for alcohol dependence than the number of marijuana users seeking treatment each year.
Certainly, abuse of any drug by any number of users is detrimental and dangerous. But potential addiction has never been the basis upon which drugs are banned in America. If it were, cigarettes, alcohol, painkillers and sleeping pills would have disappeared from our pharmacies long ago.
Like all drugs, there are potential health risks and a potential for abuse with daily marijuana use. But, more than 30 years after the report commissioned by President Nixon, the real evidence continues to support the conclusion that, "The existing social and legal policy is out of proportion to the individual and social harm engendered by the use of the drug."
Not a shred of evidence?
Modern cannabis research and traditional usages, along with modern anecdotal reports, indicate that cannabis may be the drug of choice for certain patients and conditions. For applications such as nausea and vomiting with cancer chemotherapy, anorexia and [wasting-syndrome] in HIV/AIDS, and muscle spacity in multiple sclerosis and spinal cord injury, there is strong evidence of medical benefits.
Ryan N. Phillippe, Molecular Biologist and Geneticist
University of British Columbia
Jeanne Horton, a 45-year-old Indianapolis resident who has suffered from Chronic Progressive Multiple Sclerosis for more than 20 years, has been bedridden for nearly 15 years and will remain so for the remainder of her life.
In 2001, an Indianapolis police officer smelled marijuana while on patrol near her home. Upon entering her residence and finding the illegal drug, police charged Horton with possession of marijuana and reckless possession of paraphernalia.
After appearing at pretrial hearings on a gurney and in a wheelchair, the prosecutor's office asked that she be disallowed to testify, claiming it would have added sympathy to the jury. The judge denied the petition, and the prosecutor eventually reduced the state's charges against her. Horton served two years probation, but continues to use marijuana to reduce her suffering.
"I'm just trying to make the pain I live with every day a little more manageable," Horton explains somewhat reluctantly. "Marijuana does that for me. I don't care what the government says. The truth is it works, and it's the only thing I've found that does."
One of the world's first pharmacy books, the Pen Ts'ao published in China around 2800 BC, recommends cannabis as a medical remedy for nearly every ailment, and the earliest references to its intoxicating properties appear in the Atharva-Veda, a sacred Indian text dating back to 2000 BC. The Greeks and Romans also cultivated cannabis for its fibers, seeds and medicinal applications, most notably as an anesthetic for menstrual cramps and the pain accompanying childbirth.
Throughout the Middle Ages and into the nineteenth century, cannabis was grown throughout Europe and eventually in America. In fact, the first law concerning marijuana in the United States was passed in 1619 by the Virginia assembly and required all households to grow it as a matter of national necessity. Eventually, most of the colonies allowed cannabis to be used as legal tender, and George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were among the Founding Fathers who grew cannabis on their estates.
The medical applications of cannabis did not begin to appear in the Western world until a surgeon with the British East India Company documented its use in India as an analgesic in 1839. Word of the drug's medicinal properties quickly spread, and for the next century cannabis was widely used for a variety of medical purposes including muscle spasms, menstrual cramps, rheumatism, convulsions, impotency, bronchitis, and deliria throughout Europe and America.
Because cannabis did not lead to physical dependence, it was found to be superior to opiates for a number of therapeutic purposes; and by 1900 cannabis was a main ingredient in over 100 different medicines available from America's most respected pharmaceutical companies.
Cannabis products first began to appear in Eli Lilly pharmaceutical catalogues in 1877 and continued to be sold through 1937. They grew marijuana on a plot of land known as the "Lilly Farm" just north of Indianapolis. Additionally, the company ordered and received the drug from all parts of the world including India, Mexico, Madagascar and Germany.
Photo courtesy of Medical Cannabis Museum, www.conquestdesign.com
The cannabis grown in Indianapolis, however, was touted as unsurpassed in quality. According to Lilly's promotional claims, "Through advanced methods of seed selection and cultivation, the LILLY FARMS now produce a Cannabis of high potency, enabling us to offer a fluid extract equal in strength to that made from the Indian drug!"
The earliest price catalogue in the company's archives from October 1877 lists "Cannabis Indica Fluid Extract" as their only medicinal product containing cannabis. By the turn of the century, however, Eli Lilly and Company was selling dozens of pills, powders, elixirs, syrups, tinctures and tablets containing cannabis.
In 1937, Congress passed the Marijuana Tax Act, effectively outlawing the possession, sale and use of cannabis for any purpose. Most historians credit the diminished popularity of medical marijuana on the increased use of the drug for recreational purposes - particularly among "undesirable" populations.
Marijuana was depicted as an alien intrusion into American life, capable of transforming healthy teenagers into sex-crazed maniacs, and turning otherwise decent citizens into criminals "capable of the most unspeakable crimes." The same moralistic and religious forces that succeeded in the prohibition of alcohol from 1920-1933 criticized the drug's psychoactive properties, and eventually these forces prevailed.
During the hearings conducted before the passage of the Marijuana Tax Act, the lone opponent was a representative of the American Medical Association (AMA), who was summarily chastised by committee members who questioned why the medical profession had not been more aggressive in fighting the "menace" of marijuana.
Nonetheless, the AMA argued that any law banning marijuana should at least exempt it for medical purposes.
"There is positively no evidence to indicate the abuse of cannabis as a medicinal agent or to show that its medicinal use is leading to the development of cannabis addiction. Cannabis at the present time is slightly used for medicinal purposes, but it would seem worthwhile to maintain its status as a medicinal agent... There is a possibility that a re-study of the drug by modern means may show other advantages to be derived from its medicinal use."
Over the American Medical Association's objections, cannabis was made illegal, and it disappeared from the American pharmacopoeia in 1938.
In 1988, after four years of hearings involving hundreds of witnesses and thousands of pages of documentation, Francis Young, Chief Administrative Law Judge for the DEA, issued a 69-page ruling concerning both the safety and medical benefits of marijuana.
"One must reasonably conclude," he writes, "that there is accepted safety for the use of marijuana under medical supervision. To conclude otherwise, on this record, would be unreasonable, arbitrary and capricious."
Nearly a decade after the DEA inquiry that led to Judge Young's legal ruling, Barry McCaffrey, then director of the US Office of National Drug Control Policy (aka the Drug Czar), told a CNN reporter, "There is not a shred of scientific evidence that shows that smoked marijuana is useful or needed. This is not medicine. This is a cruel hoax."
In its 2001 "Medical Marijuana Report," the AMA provided evidence that "smoking marijuana contributes to weight-gain in patients suffering from HIV wasting syndrome; provides symptomatic relief in patients with spinal cord injury, multiple sclerosis, and other causes of muscle spacity; benefits patients suffering from headaches, menstrual cramps, and the abdominal pain associated with tubal ligation; alleviates chronic pain; and reduces the number of vomiting episodes and the duration of nausea episodes in patients undergoing chemotherapy."
The report concludes, "Based on the current science base... the AMA calls for further adequate and well-controlled studies of marijuana and related cannabinoids in patients who have serious conditions for which preclinical, anecdotal, and controlled evidence suggests possible efficacy."
The AMA's call for further studies highlights one of the biggest intentional obstacles to medical marijuana usage created by the federal government and used to prevent the "legitimate" scientific evidence needed to dispel myths like those Indiana Congressman Mark Souder continues to propagate.
Marijuana is a "Schedule I" drug. According to the federal laws that classify it as such, marijuana has a high potential for abuse, no acceptable medicinal use, and no safe level of use under medical supervision - all dubious claims at best.
What the overwhelming majority of proponents of medical marijuana seek is a re-classification of marijuana to a "Schedule II" drug, allowing doctors to prescribe it to patients under medical supervision. This is, in fact, what states that have passed medical marijuana have done, in defiance of federal law.
Only the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has the authority to reclassify or approve drugs in the United States, and, as Souder points out, "The FDA's excellent scientists have never determined that smoked marijuana is safe and effective."
What Souder doesn't acknowledge, however, is that the FDA has never conducted or sanctioned clinical research to determine whether smoking marijuana is a safe and effective medical treatment.
Who is Mark Souder?
U.S. Representative Mark Edward Souder was first elected to Congress in 1994. He represents the Indiana 3rd District in and around the Fort Wayne area.
Congressman Souder is Chairman of the House Government Reform Subcommittee on Criminal Justice, Drug Policy, and Human Resources. The Subcommittee is responsible for authorizing legislation for the Office of National Drug Control Policy and its programs as well as general oversight for all U.S. government drug control efforts (including international and interdiction programs, law enforcement, and prevention and treatment initiatives).
According to The Center for Responsive Politics, the following PACs and lobbying groups have contributed the most money to his political campaigns: American Medical Association, United Parcel Service, Indiana Farm Bureau, National Rifle Association, National Beer Wholesalers, SBC Communications and Eli Lilly and Co.
Fort Wayne Office:
E. Ross Adair Federal Building, Room 3105
1300 South Harrison Street
Fort Wayne, IN 46802
Phone: (260) 424-3041 or
Fax: (260) 424-4042
U.S. House of Representatives
2231 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515
Phone: (202) 225-4436
Fax: (202) 225-3479
Medical marijuana already exists?
There might be some patient populations, e.g. cancer patients experiencing nausea and vomiting during chemotherapy, for whom smoking marijuana might offer advantages over the currently available capsule formation... The testing of smoked marijuana to evaluate its therapeutic effects is difficult, but not an impossible task.
National Institutes of Health
"Report on the medical uses of marijuana"
Since 1976, the federal government has essentially refused to fund or approve studies of the medicinal benefits of smoked marijuana. This ban has created the circular logic used by Souder and others to argue against medical marijuana.
The FDA has never sanctioned the research of smoking marijuana for medical purposes; therefore, the FDA has never determined that smoking marijuana is medically safe and effective; because the FDA has never determined that smoking marijuana is medically safe and effective, the FDA has never approved smoking marijuana for medical use.
The revived interest in the medical uses of cannabis arose at least partly from its popularity as a recreational drug in the 1960s and 1970s. Anecdotal reports from young cancer patients who smoked marijuana claimed that it relieved the nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy.
Modern chemistry also increased interest in the use of at least one constituent of cannabis, when two Israeli scientists isolated and synthesized the psychoactive ingredient of marijuana known as THC in 1964. Since the 1970s the only FDA "approved" study of cannabis and nearly all studies funded and sanctioned by the federal government have been the research of synthetic THC by major pharmaceutical companies.
Unlike marijuana itself, synthetic drugs replicating the most active ingredient in marijuana, THC, are already approved and accepted by the federal government as having medical value. As Congressman Souder and the DEA are fond of saying, "Medical marijuana already exists. It's called Marinol."
This produces the contradiction that, according to the federal government, marijuana has no medicinal value and is banned as a psychoactive drug. At the same time, THC, the principal substance that makes marijuana psychoactive, is a "legitimate" drug approved and endorsed by the federal government.
Marinol is the only synthetic THC pill prescribed in the United States. It was approved by the FDA for treating chemotherapy patients experiencing nausea and vomiting as a result of chemotherapy in 1985, and in 1992 received approval as a treatment for anorexia and AIDS patients to help increase appetite. New Jersey pharmaceutical company Unimed developed the THC pill with the financial support of the NIH, and the US government partially funded the research necessary for FDA approval.
While Marinol has been shown to help some patients, study after study has demonstrated that patients report a more significant decrease in symptoms with smoking marijuana.
Hard to swallow
Studies conducted by state health departments under research protocols approved by the FDA compared smoking marijuana with the use of synthetic drugs with cancer patients. The studies concluded that marijuana was effective in all cases and more effective than other drugs for the majority of patients.
New Mexico: The study concluded that marijuana was not only effective, but "clearly superior to Marinol." More than ninety percent of the patients who received marijuana "reported significant or total relief from nausea and vomiting." In conclusion, "the data accumulated over all five years of the program's operation do show that smoked marijuana resulted in a higher percentage of success than does [synthetic] THC."
Michigan: More than 70 percent of the patients who received marijuana reported no to moderate nausea. Only 8 of 83 patients randomized to marijuana chose to alter their mode of therapy. This was almost the inverse of patients randomized to synthetic THC where more than 90 percent - 22 out of 23 patients - elected to discontinue use and switched to marijuana.
Tennessee: The study found an overall success rate of 90.4 percent for marijuana inhalation therapy. In comparison it found a 66.7 percent success rate for THC capsules. In the under 40-age group, the study found a 100 percent success rate for marijuana inhalation therapy.
New York: Three of the five hospitals conducting the study reported marijuana was effective as treatment in 100 percent of their patients, the other two hospitals reported successes of 93 percent and 90 percent. The report concludes: "approximately ninety-three (93) percent of marijuana inhalation treatment episodes are reported to be 'effective' or 'highly effective' when compared to other anti-emetics."
Georgia: Researchers found that both THC and marijuana were effective in providing anti-emetic relief for patients who were previously unresponsive. Patient controlled smoking of marijuana was successful in 73 percent, and synthetic THC was effective in 76 percent of the cases.
California: In 1981 the California Research Advisory Panel reported: "Over 74 percent of the cancer patients treated in the program have reported that marijuana is more effective in relieving their nausea and vomiting than any other drug they have tried." In 1982, a 79 percent effectiveness rate was found for smoked marijuana. By 1983 the report was conclusory in its findings stating: "Marijuana has been shown to be effective for the majority of cancer chemotherapy patients."
Despite the government's claims that it makes smoking marijuana unnecessary in relieving symptoms, there are several significant complaints about Marinol that keep the medical marijuana debate alive.
First, patients suffering from debilitating nausea and vomiting frequently find it difficult to swallow and/or keep down an oral medication. Additionally, for those who don't throw it up, Marinol can take up to three hours before patients gain any kind of relief. Smoking marijuana, as studies have shown, relieves nausea rather than causing it, and the effects are immediate - allowing patients to use a very small dosage and achieve immediate results.
Another significant drawback to Marinol is the average cost of more than $2,000 for each round of treatment - more than ten times the cost of marijuana for the same use. Additionally, Marinol has a relatively high incidence of side effects due to its potency, particularly anxiety and depression.
The only other FDA approved synthetic THC is Nabilone, manufactured by Eli Lilly and marketed in the UK, Canada and Australia. Exceedingly more powerful than Marinol, Nabilone is only prescribed and distributed to patients in a hospital.
According to the information given patients by Cambridge Laboratories, the British company that distributes the drug in the UK, "Nabilone can cause mood changes such as euphoria, depression, or anxiety. You should be with a doctor, nurse, or hospital pharmacist when you take Nabilone. Other side effects include shaking, palpitations, loss of appetite, and stomach pains. A few patients have had hallucinations... This is why it is best to take Nabilone in the hospital."
After receiving FDA approval, Eli Lilly determined that high occurrence of side effects and the need for tightly controlled and supervised dosage would greatly reduce the drug's profits. Given its potential risks, Nabinol has never been marketed in the US, but it has had limited use in the UK.
According to the British government report cited previously, "As many as fifty percent of patients have derived some pain relief from Nabilone, but a significant number of patients are unable to tolerate the side effects of the drug, and the overall success rate is about 30 percent" Therefore, Nabilone is used very infrequently, "less than marijuana itself."
Pressed for answers concerning the superiority of synthetic THC pills like Marinol and Nabilone over smoked marijuana, even the FDA has a hard time maintaining the position that "Marijuana has no medical value that can't be met more effectively by legal drugs."
Testifying before Souder's Congressional Committee in April of 2004, Robert Meyer of the FDA begrudgingly admitted, "I think maybe that there certainly are patients who do not seem to respond even to the best of our pharmaceutical cannaboids... So there may be, and I'm not saying there are, but there may be circumstances where a smoked drug such as marijuana in very limited circumstances could be found to be overall safe and effective."
Medical marijuana is a red herring?
They catch somebody like me, an old man who'll be dead in a year, smoking in my own home, not hurting anybody, and they want to put me in jail. It's just crazy. It just doesn't make any sense to me, it really doesn't.
According to Congressman Souder, people like Mike McCoy and Jeanne Horton "use marijuana as a red herring in an effort to advocate broader legalization of drug use." He has even gone so far as to call supporters of medical marijuana "potheads with an agenda that has nothing to do with medicine."
Despite their arrests, McCoy and Horton continue to believe in the medical benefits of marijuana based on their own experience. Horton laughs at Souder's description of her motives.
"I'm not having wild parties. I'm not growing it. I'm not selling it. I smoke marijuana because it helps with things that my other medications simply don't. If there were other drugs that worked as well, I'd take them. But there aren't. At least none of the ones I've tried."
Jay Burns of Indiana NORML is left temporarily speechless by the accusation. "Other than to say that it's absurd, I'm not sure how to respond." But after a pause, Burns continues. "Look, I'd be lying if I said there weren't groups like that out there, people who want all drugs legalized, because there are. And a lot of people who want to join our organization are disappointed when they find out that's not what we're about, and we've probably lost millions of dollars in funding because of it.
"But all you have to do is take a look at our name - National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws - and a big part of that reform is to help people who are suffering."
Mike McCoy, Jeanne Horton and Jay Burns are typical of the supporters of marijuana for medical use, just as Congressman Mark Souder is typical of those who oppose it. In Souder's words, people like McCoy and Horton are "deviants" and someone like Burns who is fighting on their behalf is "an articulate advocate for an evil position."
It's beyond rational dispute that marijuana presents minimal risks to the vast majority of its users and provides real and much needed medical benefits for many seriously ill patients.
But the distinction between legal and illegal drug use in America is clear. Taking a synthetic pill that is frequently ineffective and often unaffordable is sound medicine. Smoking marijuana to alleviate the symptoms of HIV/AIDS, chemotherapy, multiple sclerosis, and a variety of debilitating diseases is immoral and wrong.
"Go ahead and call me a criminal," Mike McCoy says. "It doesn't matter to me. I'm just trying to stay alive for my wife, my kids and my grandkids. And if that means I have to smoke marijuana, then by God I'll keep doing it."
What is NORML?
The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) supports the right of adults to legally use marijuana responsibly, whether for medical or personal purposes.
3601 North Pennsylvania Street
Indianapolis, IN 46205
For legal information or assistance contact Steve Dillon at 317-923-8103
For general information about Indiana NORML contact Jay Burns at 317-223-8103
For national information and for information outside of Indiana contact www.norml.org