By Joel A. Harrison, PhD, MPH
November 8, 2011 (San Diego)--In an earlier Op Ed I pointed out that according to the U.S. Constitution, the Federal government has no legal right to impose criminal law on marijuana both grown and sold within the State of California (Reader's Editorial: Medical Marijuana and States Rights, October 25, 2011, http://www.eastcountymagazine.org/node/7674).
Gil Kerlikowske, Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, cited the National Institute of Health’s research findings that marijuana use is “associated with addiction, respiratory disease and cognitive impairment.” "Director Kerlikowske’s statements leave out “compared to what?” and “what is the benefits to risk ratio? I could make statements similar to his for many currently legal drugs, ignoring the suffering that would follow should they be declared illegal."
In the first place he leaves out “compared to what and what is the benefits to risk ratio?” Below I have cut and pasted excerpts from the summary of a comprehensive review of the scientific literature on marijuana produced by the Institute of Medicine (Note: one can register for free and then download all IOM complete reports for free):
The effects of cannabinoids on the symptoms studied are generally modest, and in most cases there are more effective medications. However, people vary in their responses to medications, and there will likely always be a subpopulation of patients who do not respond well to other medications. The combination of cannabinoid drug effects (anxiety reduction, appetite stimulation, nausea reduction, and pain relief) suggests that cannabinoids would be moderately well suited for particular conditions, such as chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting and AIDS wasting.
Although few marijuana users develop dependence, some do. Risk factors for marijuana dependence are similar to those for other forms of substance abuse. In particular, antisocial personality and conduct disorders are closely associated with substance abuse.
CONCLUSION: A distinctive marijuana withdrawal syndrome has been identified, but it is mild and short lived. The syndrome includes restlessness, irritability, mild agitation, insomnia, sleep disturbance, nausea, and cramping.
Finally, there is a broad social concern that sanctioning the medical use of marijuana might increase its use among the general population. At this point there are no convincing data to support this concern. The existing data are consistent with the idea that this would not be a problem if the medical use of marijuana were as closely regulated as other medications with abuse potential. (Free Executive Summary: “Marijuana and Medicine: Assessing the Science Base,” 2003, http://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=6376 ) Note. A version of the study was released the following year for the general public, “Marijuana As Medicine? The Science Beyond the Controversy (2000).
To summarize: Medical marijuana does confer benefits on patients. The risks are minimal, in most cases less than many other both legal and illegal drugs. And finally, Federal raids on State grown and sold within the State marijuana is a violation of the U.S. Constitution.
Joel A. Harrison, PhD, MPH, a native San Diegan, is a semi-retired epidemiologist. He has worked in the areas of preventive medicine, infectious diseases, medical outcomes research, and evidence-based clinical practice guidelines. He is currently active in supporting the adoption of a single-payer health care system in the U.S. For more information on single-payer go to Physicians for a National Health Program’s website at www.pnhp.org. The views in this editorial reflect those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of East County Magazine. To submit an editorial for consideration, contact email@example.com.