Pubdate: Sat, 25 Jul 2015
Source: Post-Star, The ( NY)
Copyright: 2015 Glens Falls Newspapers Inc.
Author: Donald Bradley, The Kansas City Star


KANSAS CITY, Mo. Certain chemicals in marijuana may kill cancer 
cells, shrink tumors and prevent the formation of blood vessels that 
feed tumors.

That's the National Cancer Institute reporting findings from 
preclinical trials - the kind of research that typically leads to 
more in-depth testing.

But nearly a half-century ago the folks who write the checks for the 
cancer institute - the U.S. government - proclaimed marijuana a 
stoner-only drug and stamped it Schedule I, lumping it with heroin 
and LSD. That early war-on-drugs salvo cut the world's biggest funder 
out of medical marijuana research.

Had the U.S. cut checks back then to turn the big research labs loose 
we might know by now that marijuana is nothing more than a good buzz, 
as promising as the smoke that spills out of Jeff Spicoli's van.

Or, who knows? Marijuana-based drugs could be improving lives today. 
Maybe even saving some.

Because while America was just saying no, research - much of it from 
other countries - has shown that marijuana derivatives called 
cannabinoids and cannabidiol can trigger the body's natural defenses 
to fight things such as cancer, Alzheimer's, multiple sclerosis, 
diabetes, Crohn's disease and epilepsy.

A Canadian study concluded cannabis reduced pain and improved sleep 
for sufferers of neuropathic pain. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell 
announced the league is monitoring research being done in Israel on 
marijuana being used to treat traumatic brain injury.

Health organizations, such as the American Cancer Society, 
increasingly say the Schedule I label stands in the way of scientific research.

But the federal government continues to stick to its Nixon-era stance 
- - even when calls for change come from its own agencies.

"That's my definition of chaos," said J. Michael Bostwick, a 
psychiatrist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota., and author 
of "Blurred Boundaries: The Therapeutics and Politics of Medical Marijuana."

"The federal government needs to change its position so this research 
can take place," Bostwick said.

So it's a catch-22: marijuana being on the Schedule I list impedes 
research that could show it doesn't belong there.

Who can change this? That's another fight.

Earlier this year, then-U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder called on 
Congress to do it. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., quickly reminded Holder 
that the attorney general already had the authority to reclassify marijuana.

The easiest route would be for the Drug Enforcement Administration to 
act. But in 2011, the agency rejected a petition, filed nearly a 
decade before, to do so after hearing opposition from the Department 
of Health and Human Services.

It appears now that change could come from Congress, where bills have 
been introduced in both the House and Senate.

In March, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, a Republican presidential 
candidate with a libertarian bent, joined Democratic Sens. Kirsten 
Gillibrand of New York and Cory Booker of New Jersey in introducing 
legislation that would change marijuana to a Schedule II drug. That 
would mean the federal government recognizes its medical value but 
that the drug can be abused, much like prescription opiates.

The 23 states that have approved medical marijuana would also be 
protected from federal intervention. The Obama administration has 
made it clear that it would let those states play by their own rules. 
But his successor is not obligated to do likewise.

More states could soon join the 23 - even deep-red places like Kansas 
and Missouri are taking a look. Pot bills went further in Kansas this 
year than they ever have. Missouri last year passed a 
Republican-pushed bill legalizing a low-THC cannabidiol for treatment 
of severe epileptic seizures.

There's still plenty of opposition. Opponents typically argue that 
conventional drugs are safer and that "medical marijuana" is simply 
an incremental ploy to get recreational pot. Indeed, in California 
and elsewhere it's become common for doctors to set up shop in or 
next to dispensaries specifically to diagnose dubious conditions like 
pain from old high school football injuries.

"You're not seeing a lot of medical support for marijuana and these 
state legislatures are giving pot a free rein," said Eric Voth, a 
Topeka, Kansas, physician and longtime marijuana opponent who heads 
the Institute on Global Drug Policy and speaks on behalf of the 
national Drug Free America.

A common volley from advocates is that doctors who oppose marijuana 
research are probably trying to protect the prescription drug business.

But if the government should loosen its grip, Mahmoud A. ElSohly 
would instantly become the country's best-known pot farmer.

He's got 12 acres up and growing in the middle of campus at the 
University of Mississippi in Oxford, where the spring was warm and 
rainy. A scientist and professor, ElSohly heads the federal 
government's marijuana patch.

His crop is where any research project approved by the U.S. Food and 
Drug Administration would get its plants.

Cannabinoids and cannabidiol (CBD) - what do they do?

Scientists say humans have a unique communication system in the 
brain. When receptors are triggered by cannabinoids, they transmit 
signals throughout the body. This "endocannabinoid system" provides 
the infrastructure for marijuana's effect on humans.

Sometimes that's simply the euphoric feeling of getting high. But 
researchers increasingly find that those chemical charges may go 
through the body and kill cancer cells, ease neuropathic pain, calm 
seizures from epilepsy, help control blood sugar, relieve glaucoma's 
intraocular pressure and perform a host of other benefits.

All this has changed minds - perhaps most famously Sanjay Gupta, 
CNN's chief medical correspondent and a neurosurgeon. For years an 
opponent of medical marijuana, Gupta in August of 2013 apologized for 
misleading the country.

"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.

The new information has also led to a changed political climate in 
which polls now show most Americans favoring legalization of marijuana.

The findings prompt even longtime marijuana opponents to acknowledge 
their promise. Voth says that something called "Charlotte's Web," a 
cannabidiol with little of the buzz component of marijuana, appears 
to be effective in treating children with epilepsy.

But he and others reject many other claims about marijuana.

In December, Samuel T. Wilkinson at Yale University's School of 
Medicine released a study that showed treatment of PTSD suffered when 
patients smoke marijuana, although some patients swear by it. 
Wilkinson previously released a paper that linked marijuana use to 

And while the American Glaucoma Society says that marijuana eases 
intraocular pressure, the relief lasts only three hours. So patients 
need to smoke several times a day. The society advises against 
marijuana use as a treatment.

Hard to imagine the FDA would ever approve "crude marijuana" - joints 
and bong hits that put smoke in the lungs. But derivatives can come 
in many smokeless forms where the components and dosages can be 
better controlled.

That said, many patients would say don't cut short the healing power 
of a good doobie.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom