Pubdate: Mon, 02 Mar 2009
Source: News & Observer (Raleigh, NC)
Copyright: 2009 The News and Observer Publishing Company
Author: Arthur Benavie
Note: Arthur Benavie is an emeritus professor of economics at 
UNC-Chapel Hill. He is the author of the recently published book 
"Drugs: America's Holy War."
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)


CHAPEL HILL - At a recent news conference, Gov. Beverly Perdue 
rejected the use of marijuana for medical purposes. "I don't see any 
way I would support medical marijuana," she said. "Right now, every 
child I look at who's had a problem getting off pot -- I worry about 
that." As a researcher of illicit drugs, I strongly disagree.

Perdue is right that we should not initiate a policy that would cause 
young people to get hooked on pot, but evidence suggests this is not 
a problem. The U.S. Government Accountability Office, the 
investigative arm of Congress, was told by law enforcement that the 
medical marijuana programs in Alaska, California, Hawaii and Oregon 
had not been taken advantage of by adolescents.

There is overwhelming scientific evidence that marijuana reduces 
pain, nausea, vomiting and loss of appetite associated with AIDS and 
cancer, and that it lessens uncontrollable body movements resulting 
from multiple sclerosis. As a result of these findings, numerous 
organizations have endorsed medical access to marijuana, including 
the American Academy of Family Physicians, the American Public Health 
Association, the New England Journal of Medicine and our National 
Academy of Sciences. The Academy's Institute of Medicine reported 
that "there are some limited circumstances in which we recommend 
smoking marijuana for medical uses." Their report stated that 
marijuana has "potential therapeutic value" for "pain relief, control 
of nausea, vomiting and appetite stimulation." The Institute also 
pointed out that the issue of drug abuse is normally not considered 
for the medical use of drugs and "should not be a factor in 
evaluating the therapeutic potential of marijuana."

There is a legal alternative to medical marijuana, namely, dronabinol 
(brand name Marinol). The medication is a synthetic version of THC, 
the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. Dronabinol also decreases 
nausea and increases appetite, but many chemotherapy patients prefer 
smoked marijuana for several reasons: * Many patients who find 
dronabinol ineffective obtain relief with marijuana, * Swallowing 
pills is difficult and sometimes impossible for patients who are 
nauseated and vomiting.

* Dronabinol acts more slowly than marijuana.

* Marijuana contains a component, cannabidiol, which has anti-anxiety 
effects which patients find helpful. This ingredient is not found in 

* Adjusting the dose is easier when puffing than when taking pills.

* Dronabinol is much more expensive than marijuana.

In a survey conducted by the Kennedy School of Government, 75 percent 
of the oncologists who responded considered marijuana superior to 
dronabinol at preventing nausea and vomiting, and 48 percent said 
they would prescribe marijuana if it were legal. In a study published 
in the New York State Journal of Medicine, 29 percent of the cancer 
patients said that their nausea and vomiting were not relieved by 
dronabinol, but they did get relief from marijuana.

Relieving nausea and vomiting is of crucial importance to patients 
undergoing radiation or chemotherapy. Listen to Harvard Medical 
School professors Lester Grinspoon and James Bakalar: "Retching (dry 
heaves) may last for hours or even days after each treatment, 
followed by days and even weeks of nausea. Patients may break bones 
or rupture the esophagus while vomiting. Furthermore, many patients 
eat almost nothing because they cannot stand the sight or smell of 
food. As they lose weight and strength, they find it more and more 
difficult to sustain the will to live." There are innumerable 
testimonies from people who have cancer, AIDS and other diseases who 
have been helped by marijuana, when conventional treatments have been 
ineffective. One patient afflicted with lung and testicular cancer 
said that marijuana "has been far more beneficial to me than other 
medications they have recommended to me, including powerful narcotics 
like morphine, Demerol and codeine."

A heavy majority of the public favors legalizing medical marijuana. 
In a 2002 Times/CNN poll 80 percent of Americans believed that people 
should be allowed to legally use marijuana for medical purposes if 
their doctor prescribes it.

Given strong public support and the overwhelming endorsement of the 
scientific community, don't we deserve a more thoughtful statement 
from the governor than the dismissive "I don't see any way I would 
support medical marijuana."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom