I am posting this paper that I wrote in my first year of medical school in honor of the great distance I have travelled since then in my studies and understanding of the cannabis plant, and then into the newest and oldest ways of looking not only at this plant, but at the systems that it has led me to learn about. The next few blogs I’ll be posting will be based on my recent work in this regard. So, I thought it both nostalgic and relevant to revisit this piece, as it contains some still very important information that continues to need disseminated. I have learned a great deal since I wrote this piece. For one thing, I stopped using the term marijuana that year. Please, read on and then stay tuned for more on cannabis, and beyond.
15 June 2014
Public Health Policy
Research shows the marijuana plant offers high potentials for healing with low risks of use.
Cannabinoids (the active compounds in the marijuana plant) when consumed by humans, bind to cannabinoid receptors in the brain and body causing significant pharmacological effects.1 Research has been showing this for decades. The US Government did not have control over the use of and profits associated with medical marijuana. The government chose to restrict/criminalize use of this plant as well as suppress and control research on its medical benefits. However, enough research and real life experiences have been documented to validate the low risks of use and the high potentials for healing this plant offers, warranting extensive study and medical use.
Historical use, research and government action all indicate the high potential and need for further research for the use of medial marijuana/cannabis. From 1850 to 1937, the U.S. Pharmacopoeia listed cannabis as the primary medicine for more than 100 separate illnesses or diseases. The Marijuana Tax Act was introduced in 1937. At this time, the American Medical Association (AMA) and drug companies testified against this act stating that cannabis was known to have great medical potential and had never caused any observable addictions or death by overdose. They also argued the importance of continued research believing it could be used in even more effective ways than had yet to be evidenced.2 Despite these and further attempts by the AMA and major universities, The Controlled Substances Act of 1970 ensured that ‘independent’ (read: university) research was suppressed and future independent studies were banned. Only American pharmaceutical companies were allowed to finance and judge any and all past and future research without any safeguarding regulations.3 In 1973 President Nixon created The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). In the same year, hoping to prove marijuana caused cancer, Nixon requested studies be done at the Medical College of Virginia. To the contrary of his hopes, the study documented cannabinoid’s anti-tumor effects. This ‘Anti Cancer Activity of Cannabinoids’ study showed among other things that “delta-9-THC modifies other cell responses that may have greater biologic significance in that they have antineoplastic activity.” (Inhibiting or preventing the growth and spread of tumors or malignant cells.) This study also said that “these compounds readily cross the blood-brain barrier and do not possess many of the toxic manifestations of presently used cytotoxic agents, makes them an appealing group of drugs to study.”4
Another demonstration of the medical value of cannabis are the government-owned patents on cannabinoids and attached research that state its effectiveness in treating cancers and other diseases. These patents substantiate the position that medical marijuana has promise and warrants further research. US Patent 6630507 states unequivocally that cannabinoids are useful in the prevention and treatment of a wide variety of diseases including: autoimmune disorders, stroke, trauma, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and HIV dementia. The patent, awarded in 2003, is based on research done by the National Institute of Health, and is assigned to the US Department of Health and Human Services.5 Another US Patent clearly states that “cannabinoids, including THC and cannabidiol (CBD) are able to promote the re-emergence of apoptosis so that some tumors will heed the signals, stop dividing, and die.”6 These facts make it difficult to rectify the government’s public stance against medical marijuana.
In addition to the government history, research and patents on medical marijuana, there are many independent studies showing positive results in the use of cannabis for the treatment of a variety of diseases. Here is just one example:
Researchers at the University of Milan in Naples, Italy reported in the Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics that non-psychoactive compounds in marijuana inhibited the growth of glioma cells in a dose-dependent manner, and selectively targeted and killed malignant cells through apoptosis. “Non-psychoactive CBD (cannabidiol) produces a significant anti-tumor activity both in vitro and in vivo, thus suggesting a possible application of CBD as an antineoplastic agent.”7 There are dozens of credible scientific journals that all share consistent conclusions that cannabis shrinks tumors and selectively targets cancer cells. This information is now readily available to the public on numerous websites, which cite legitimate studies.8
Opponents of the medical use of marijuana will remind us that it is illegal according to federal law, denounce its medical value and warn people of the dangerous ‘side effects’ of the use of cannabis such as respiratory damage, cardiovascular disease, impaired cognitive development, and mental illness.9
Research efforts have been extremely compromised since marijuana was completely outlawed in the Marijuana Tax Act of 193710. “Recruitment into studies of a drug currently classified as Schedule 1 in the US may be difficult due to the stigma attached or the additional burden placed on researchers.” 11 Despite government attempts to suppress the research and use of marijuana medically, there are dozens of studies showing that the side effects are minimal and temporary, especially when compared to the alternative conventional drugs and procedures used instead. “Reported adverse effects are typically not serious.”12 “No direct fatalities (overdoses) have been attributed to marijuana, even in recreational users of increasingly potent marijuana.” 11
When considering the medicinal potentials derived from the cannabis plant it is important to consider (without bias) the historical use and governmental regulations of marijuana, the US patents on its components and the independent research. This data supports the position that many researchers have concluded for several decades: The marijuana plant and many of its various components (especially the cannabinoids) show promising benefits for a myriad of medical conditions. In addition, evidence suggests that the potential side effects of marijuana, when used for medical purposes and in recommended forms and doses, are very low. This is especially evident when compared to other conventional drugs and treatments used for the same conditions. All of this information and research makes the various components of cannabis ‘an appealing group of drugs to study’2.
1. National Cancer Institute: PDQ® Cannabis and Cannabinoids. Bethesda, MD: National Cancer Institute. Date last modified 05/13/2014. Available at:http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/cam/cannabis/healthprofessional. Accessed 06/14/2014.
2. Guither P. Why is Marijuana Illegal? Drug Warrant. Available at: http://www.drugwarrant.com/articles/why-is-marijuana-illegal/. Accessed June 14, 2014.
3. Herer J. The Emperor Wears No Clothes. Chapter Six. AH HA Publishing; 12th edition. November 2010. Available at: http://www.jackherer.com/thebook/chapter-six/. Accessed June 14, 2014.
4. Munson AE, Harris LS, Friedman MA, et al. Anticancer Activity of Cannabinoids. Journal of the National Cancer Institue. September 1975; 55(3): 597-602. Available at: http://www.drugpolicycentral.com/bot/pg/cancer/THC_cancer_sep_1975.htm. Accessed June 14, 2014.
5. Hampson AJ, Axelrod J, Grimaldi M, et al. Inventors; The United States of America as represented by the Department of Health and Human Services, assignee. US patent 6,630,507. October 7, 2003. Available at: http://patft.uspto.gov/netacgi/nph- Parser?Sect1=PTO1&Sect2=HITOFF&d=PALL&p=1&u=%2Fnetahtml%2FPTO%2Fsrc hnum.htm&r=1&f=G&l=50&s1=6630507.PN.&OS=PN/6630507&RS=PN/6630507. Accessed June 14, 2014.
6. Parolaro D, Massi P, Izzo AA, et al. Inventors; Otsuka Pharmaceutical Co., Limited, Gw Pharma Limited, assignee. US patent 30130059018 A1. March 7, 2013. Available at: http://www.google.com/patents/US20130059018. Accessed June 14, 2014.
7. Massi et al. 2004. Antitumor effects of cannabidiol, a non-psychotropic cannabinoid, on human glioma cell lines. Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics Fast Forward 308: 838-845.
8. Taillard M. 34 Medical Studies Proving Cannabis Cures Cancer. The Mind Unleashed. Dec 10, 2013. Available at: http://themindunleashed.org/2013/12/34-medical-studies- proving-cannabis-cures-cancer.html. Accessed 14 June, 2014.
9. Richter KP, Levy S. Big Marijuana – Lessons from Big Tobacco. New England Journal of Medicine. June 11, 2014; DOI: 10.1056/NEJMp1406074. Available at: http://www.nejm.org.ezproxy.ncnm.edu/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMp1406074 Accessed 14 June, 2014.
10. Full Text of the Marihuana Tax Act as passed in 1937. Schaffer Library of Drug Policy. 15 May, 2007. Available at: http://www.druglibrary.org/schaffer/hemp/taxact/mjtaxact.htm. Accessed 14 June, 2014.
11. Koppel BS, Brust JC, Fife T, et al. Systematic review: Efficacy and safety of medical marijuana in selected neurologic disorders. Neurology. April 2014; 82(1): 1556-1563. DOI: 10.1212/WNL.0000000000000363. Available at: http://www.neurology.org/content/82/17/1556.long. Accessed June 19, 2014.
12. Borgelt LM, Franson KL, Nussbaum AM, et al. The Pharmacologic and Clinical Effects of Medical Cannabis. Pharmacolotherapy: The Journal of Human Pharmacology and Drug Therapy, Feb 2013; 33(2):195-209. DOI: 10.1002/phar.1187. Available at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov.ezproxy.ncnm.edu/pubmed/23386598. Accessed June 14, 2014.
1. Velasco G, Carracedo A, Biazquez C, et al. Cannabinoids and Gliomas. Mil Neurobiol. June 28, 2007; 36(1): 60-7. Available at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17952650. Accessed June 14, 2014.
2. Drugs and Human Performance Fact Sheets: Cannabis/Marijuana. Available at: http://www.nhtsa.gov/people/injury/research/job185drugs/cannabis.htm
3. Pharmaceutical Strength Marijuana. Aug 15, 2013. Available at: http://drsircus.com/medicine/pharmaceutical-strength-marijuana. Accessed June 14, 2014.
4. Medical Cannabis A Short Graphical History China. Available at: http://antiquecannabisbook.com/chap2B/China/China.htm. Accessed June 14, 2014.
5. Rose sd. Traditional Chinese Medicine: How Marijuana Has Been Used For Centuries. July 1, 2013. Available at: http://www.thenorthwestleaf.com/pages/articles/post/traditional- chinese-medicine-how-marijuana-has-been-used-for-centuries. Accessed June 14, 2014.
6. Walia A. The Top 4 Medical Studies That Prove Cannabis Can Cure Brain Cancer. Nov 3, 2013. Available at: http://www.collective-evolution.com/2013/11/03/the-top-4-medical- studies-that-prove-cannabis-can-cure-brain-cancer/. Accessed June 14, 2014.
7. Blazquez C, Gonzalez-Feria L, Alvarex L, et al. Cannabinoids Inhibit the Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor Pathway in Gliomas. American Association of Cancer Research. June 10, 2004. Doi: 10.1158/0008-5472. CAN-03-3972. Available at: http://cancerres.aacrjournals.org/content/64/16/5617.long. Accessed June 14, 2014.
8. McKenna GJ. The Current Status of Medical Marijuana in the United States. Hawaii J Med Public Health. Apr 2014; 73(4): 105-108. PMC3998227. Available at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov.ezproxy.ncnm.edu/pmc/articles/PMC3998227/. Accessed June 14, 2014.
9. Webb CW and Webb SM. Therapeutic Benefits of Cannabis: A Patient Survey. Hawaii J Med Public Health. Apr 2014; 73(4): 109-111. PMC3998228. Available at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov.ezproxy.ncnm.edu/pmc/articles/PMC3998228/. Accessed June 14, 2014.
10. Medical Marijuana. Available at: http://medicalmarijuana.procon.org. Accessed June 14, 2014.
11. Mack A and Joy J. “Can Marijuana Help?” Marijuana As Medicine?: The Science Beyond the Controversy . Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2000. Available at: http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=9586. Accessed June 14, 2014.