Pubdate: Fri, 5 Sep 2008
Source: Community Press, The (CN ON)
Copyright: 2008 Osprey Media
Author: Mark Hoult
Cited: Marijuana, The Forbidden Medicine
Cited: Marijuana uses
Bookmark: (Marijuana - Medicinal)


Although fewer than 3,000 Canadians are licensed to use medical 
marijuana, it's estimated that between 400,000 and one million people 
in the country use cannabis as medication. The following is the 
second in a series of articles about the use of marijuana to treat 
medical conditions.

Trent Hills - In 1967 Dr. Lester Grinspoon was a young assistant 
professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and the senior 
author of an in-depth study of schizophrenia.

He was also one of a growing number of medical professionals who were 
becoming concerned about the number of young people who were 
experimenting with "a terribly dangerous drug" called marijuana.

While waiting for some of his colleagues to submit their 
contributions to the book on schizophrenia, Grinspoon decided to 
begin an objective academic study of marijuana.

He believed that if kids would not heed government warnings about the 
plant's toxicity, some would at least give credence to a 
well-researched scientific paper describing the dangers of smoking pot.

But while doing his research, Grinspoon did not, as he expected, 
discover overwhelming evidence of marijuana's dangers to physical and 
mental health. Instead, he discovered that much of what he thought he 
knew about the drug was based on myth and misinformation.

The information he gathered from his research made him skeptical 
about society's conventional perspective on marijuana and launched 
him on a personal and professional journey that would lead him to 
become one of the world's most outspoken and articulate advocates for 
medical cannabis and the legalization of marijuana.

During a phone interview with The Community Press from his 
Massachusetts home, the associate professor emeritus of psychiatry 
described how he reacted to the results of his study.

"I had come to this with skepticism and a real concern for young 
people. To my astonishment, and it didn't take long, I discovered I 
had been brainwashed."

Grinspoon said he began to realize that marijuana, rather than being 
an extremely toxic drug, was relatively benign.

"There's no such thing as a harmless drug. But marijuana would be 
among the 10 least harmful drugs in the pharmacopoeia," he said.

In fact, until 1937, marijuana was included in the medical 
pharmacopoeia, he said.

Between 1840 and 1900, more than 100 papers on the therapeutic use of 
marijuana were published in European and American medical journals, 
Grinspoon pointed out in a 1995 paper he co-authored for the Journal 
of the American Medical Association titled "Marijuana as Medicine: A 
Plea for Reconsideration."

The United States Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 made the drug so 
difficult to obtain for medical purposes it was taken out of the 
pharmacopoeia. And it was then that doctors simply stopped thinking 
about cannabis as a viable medical therapy, despite its 5,000-year 
history as a therapeutic plant, Grinspoon said.

The prohibition of marijuana in the 20th century was also the 
beginning of what Grinspoon has described as "a popular delusion that 
has been responsible for the arrest of more than 12 million U.S. citizens."

Although he acknowledges there is legitimate concern about possible 
lung damage as a result of smoking marijuana, Grinspoon said the true 
harm is the result of the way society responds to and treats people 
who use cannabis. Every year hundreds of thousands of U.S. citizens 
are convicted of marijuana-related felonies and put behind bars, he 
said, adding: "The harm comes from the lives blighted by criminal charges."

Grinspoon shared his skepticism about the conventional understanding 
of marijuana in a paper originally published in the now defunct 
International Journal of Psychiatry. A shorter version was published 
in the December 1969 issue of Scientific American. And in 1971 Dr. 
Grinspoon published his landmark book, "Marijuana Reconsidered," in 
which he argues for a reassessment of the drug.

Grinspoon drew on more than academic study for his passionate 
advocacy of medical marijuana.

In 1967, the same year he started his research, Grinspoon's 
12-year-old son Danny was diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia. 
The prognosis was grave, but despite his illness, Danny took a close 
interest in his father's efforts to write a book on marijuana.

By 1971 Danny's cancer treatments were causing him to experience 
severe nausea and constant vomiting.

"He just didn't want to go in for his treatments," Grinspoon said.

By now Grinspoon was aware of an extensive body of anecdotal evidence 
for the medical benefits of marijuana, including strong evidence that 
cannabis is effective in the treatment of nausea and vomiting. But it 
was difficult for him, as a medical professional, to take that final 
step and agree to allow his son to use a prescribed drug.

"I said to myself, 'I can't, it's against the law.'"

Finally, his family took the matter into their own hands.

On the day of one of Danny's chemotherapy sessions, Grinspoon went to 
the hospital to be with his son and family, only to discover an 
unexpected scene.

"This day I walked in, and they were joking around while waiting for 
the treatment.

And they told me he'd had a few puffs of marijuana in the parking lot 
before he came in," Grinspoon recalled.

The marijuana provided Danny with extensive relief from the nausea 
and vomiting.

And for Grinspoon, the experience of seeing his son's suffering 
relieved by a drug society had judged to be dangerous, confirmed what 
he was already beginning to believe: marijuana's benefits are real.

And those benefits were being denied to thousands of sick people 
because society has come to believe cannabis is dangerous and those 
who use it should be pursued and prosecuted.

"I started thinking to myself, 'my goodness, this is real. And what 
if there are other kids out there who could be spared suffering,'" he said.

Grinspoon continued bringing the issues of medical marijuana and 
marijuana legalization before the public, writing "Marijuana, The 
Forbidden Medicine" with fellow researcher James Bakalar, and 
launching websites, including, which includes 
essays and testimonials on marijuana use, including his own "To Smoke 
or Not to Smoke: A Cannabis Odyssey," and an essay, "Mr. X," by the 
late Carl Sagan, one of the world's most respected and renowned 
astronomers, who used marijuana for most of his adult life.

And at the age of 80, Grinspoon and his wife Betsy continue their own 
discovery of marijuana's "usefulness in the task of achieving 
reconciliation with the aging process, including coming to terms with 
the inevitable physical and emotional aches, deficits and losses."

Marijuana, he believes, "is a blessing."

And a day will come, he said, when attitudes about marijuana change, 
and people will ask: "What was all the fuss about this substance?" 
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