Pubdate: Thu, 22 Aug 2013
Source: Fort Collins Coloradoan (CO)
Copyright: 2013 The Fort Collins Coloradoan
Author: Robert Allen


The U.S. Government's Classification of Marijuana Deems It More 
Dangerous Than Meth and Cocaine, With 'No Currently Accepted Medical Use.'

Marijuana proponents gained a new friend recently in a high-profile 
CNN doctor who retracted his opposition to the drug.

And in Northern Colorado, even a drug-addiction specialist admits 
he's written a few medical-marijuana recommendations for patients 
suffering from non-addiction-related ailments.

But the full spectrum of pot's effects is hazy as federal laws 
continue to block research.

The Schedule I drug is ranked among the worst of the worst drugs with 
"no currently accepted medical use," more dangerous than 
methamphetamines, cocaine or anabolic steroids, according to drug 
schedules from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

Colorado State University doesn't conduct any research on marijuana, 
banning the federally illegal substance from campus completely. As 
such, a spokesperson said it would be "awkward" even to facilitate 
faculty members to opine on the drug's health effects.

The wariness isn't unusual. Not only is pot illegal in most states, 
but to be able to study it involves jumping through hoops such as 
getting approval from the National Institute on Drug Abuse - an arm 
of the federal government focused on drug abuse rather than benefits, 
said Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, in a column 
earlier this month.

"We have been terribly and systematically misled for nearly 70 years 
in the United States, and I apologize for my own role in that," he 
said in the column, an about-face from previous statements he made in 
a 2009 column in Time magazine.

In Loveland, Dr. Jeremy Dubin helps people get off drugs. He's a 
board-certified addiction medicine specialist who also practices 
family medicine. And he's written marijuana recommendations for 
patients with spinal injuries who can't handle prescription 
painkillers as well as others with end-stage cancer.

"I hope there's more data, because I would prefer to prescribe 
potentially less-toxic medicine than the opiates," he said, adding 
that he never recommends smoking marijuana, which also can be 
consumed as an additive to food or by other methods.

But he's quick to point out the potential for abuse. He said 
marijuana is one of the "top drugs" for which people voluntarily 
enter rehab. About 10 to 12 percent of the population has a 
propensity toward addiction, he said.

"If predisposed, any mind-altering substance can possibly be 
harmful," Dubin said, adding that people can lose "control of their 
own use," whether with alcohol, opiates, pot or even sex.

Marijuana is known to affect short-term memory and affect blood 
pressure and heart rate. Lethal overdoses are virtually impossible 
for a person who's strictly using marijuana, and Dubin said that 
while he is not "pro-marijuana," it's probably a safer drug than 
abusing prescription opiates. But there needs to be more research.

Meanwhile, Colorado is among two states that legalized marijuana and 
20 states allowing medical marijuana.

'No objective data'

If people were using marijuana instead of getting drunk - or even 
while drunk - there would be fewer incidents of domestic violence, 
said Dr. Jamie Teumer, an emergency-room physician who works at 
multiple Northern Colorado hospitals, including Poudre Valley 
Hospital in Fort Collins.

He said marijuana is "more benign" than other drugs, with overdose 
usually causing only sleepiness and sometimes confusion.

But he, too, said there are gaping holes in scientific research. He 
and his group, Emergency Physicians of the Rockies, have a policy of 
"absolute no" when it comes to medical-marijuana recommendations, he said.

"I'm sure the hospital would not want (physicians) doing that 
anyways," he said. "Plus, imagine the people rushing to the ER 
wanting to get a pot license."

To illustrate the lack of scientific knowledge, Teumer points to 
driving under the influence.

"The struggle they have in trying to determine what is the legal 
limit: That gives you a pretty good idea of how limited we are in the 
research," Teumer said. "People in court say, 'There's no objective 
data.' With blood-alcohol, the beauty is we have the objective data 
and stratified limits."

He said there must be a sound way to set a viable a benchmark similar 
to the 0.08 blood-alcohol level used in drunken driving cases.

Colorado this year passed a law establishing 5 nanograms per 
milliliter of blood as too high to drive. But unlike with alcohol, 
defense attorneys can argue in court that the amount wasn't enough to 
impair the defendant. Opponents to the bill argued that chronic users 
maintain levels about that high in their blood even when they aren't impaired.

Science of marijuana

U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, who represents Fort Collins in Congress, has 
pushed for laws allowing more opportunities for marijuana study.

"It's very, very difficult if not impossible for American scientists 
to conduct peer-reviewed studies," he said Tuesday, adding that it 
should be up to the states to determine how to deal with marijuana.

Popular Science, in an April article titled, "Why it's so hard for 
scientists to study medical marijuana," explains that federal laws 
have made pot even tougher to research than fellow Schedule I drugs, 
such as ecstasy or magic mushrooms.

For non-NIDA-funded research, projects need an approved 
Investigational New Drug application on file with the Food and Drug 
administration, proper DEA registration and approval as 
scientifically valid from a Health and Human Services scientific 
review panel, according to the article.

Gupta, in his column, "Why I changed my mind on weed," said that 
roughly 6 percent of marijuana research considers the drug's 
benefits, with the rest designed to investigate the harm it causes. 
He said in the column that he spent the past year researching medical 
marijuana across the planet before retracting what he said in the 
Time column, "Health: Why I would vote no on pot."

Even in eastern medicine, marijuana's health effects aren't very well 
known, said Kent Nixon, who practices Japanese Acupuncture at Old 
Town Acupuncture in Fort Collins.

"It was kind of written about as a topical pain reliever in 
historical (Chinese) writings," he said. "It's not one of the 
classically used herbs, which to me was always interesting, because 
it's a strong herb."

Nixon said it grows "everywhere" in China, mostly as hemp, and the 
most understood medical application is using the seeds as a laxative. 
He said that like other drugs, marijuana can have good and bad 
effects, depending on its use.

"There are some places where it just really shines, like menstrual 
cramps and insomnia, where there are no prescription drugs that help 
and the side effects (of them) are so detrimental," he said.

More to come

Teumer said it could be decades before there's adequate data to show 
the long-term effects of marijuana, but there is hope: With marijuana 
becoming less stigmatized, longtime users are more likely to come 
forward and volunteer for studies - research that can be done without 
the organizations having actual marijuana on hand.

He's already noticed more people in the ER admitting to using medical 

"I wish I knew more about the subject, but it's so new," he said. But 
he expects this to change and for more people to invest in research 
from both sides. "We're going to get a lot of data, and probably a 
lot better data."

Teumer said ER doctors are all familiar with the dangers of 
prescription drugs. They never write prescriptions for more than 20 
pills, and there's a list of about 700 people who can't get narcotics 
from his group.

Last year, prescription opiates killed 27 people in Larimer County, 
which is more than heroin (11), alcohol (2), meth (2), or cocaine (1) combined.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom