Tuesday, June 07, 2005

And the Supreme Court Rides Again

I have a friend with Multiple Sclerosis. She is an incredible teacher and an amazing person. Unfortunately, she is in constant pain. She wakes up three hours before she has to every day because it takes her that long to get her body moving. She has tried every pharmaceutical pain killer and none of them worked more than once. She does everything she should, eats the right foods, drinks lots of water, and exercises every day. Still, the pain is unbearable. Finally, her doctor said, "Friend, I know it's illegal and could get you into trouble, but I really think you should try smoking a joint in the morning. The effects of the marijuana will take away your pain, but still leave you fully functional. Plus, it's most likely less harmful to your body than cigarettes or alcohol. Nothing else works for you. What do you have to lose?"

My poor friend, in serious pain and with nothing else to do, found a connection and got herself some pot. Curious about how she was doing and worried that she could lose her teaching license, I called her and said, "Friend, how are you?"

With a pep in her voice I hadn't heard in months, she said, "You wouldn't believe it. After about half a joint, the pain started to melt away. I can feel it in my joints and in my muscles. I can move more easily."

I said, "Friend, aren't you worried.? You could be arrested. You could lose your teaching certificate. You could be put in jail, ridiculed, and sued by parents claiming that you were high while teaching (certainly not the case). That doesn't scare you?"

And she said, "I feel better than I have in years. Today, I sat on the floor and played with Gracie. I did my own laundry. I opened a bottle without Phil's help. I don't care if I get caught. If I do, I'll fight. I'm an adult, well aware of the effects things can have on my body. Why shouldn't I be in complete control of what goes in and out of it? I'm not hurting anyone. And for the first time in three years, I am not in pain. If my government thinks that's wrong, they are inhumane."

So I said, "Let's go to Amsterdam!"


tshsmom said...

The gov't won't allow this because they're almost all bought out by the pharmaceutical companies.

Anonymous said...

Being of Dutch descent, and having lived there, I would caution about quickly heading over there for the relaxed rules. We have dealt with a lot of drug-related problems in Holland that do not get as much press as they should in America (or Holland for that matter.) I do, however, agree with your point and wish your "friend" the best. One final point--if you were calling her "friend" to protect her anonymity, I would remove the names of her husband/boyfriend and the name of her child. Could be tracked back, and is probably dangerous in general. But please wish her luck!

Anonymous said...

I think her argument is a great one in support of legalizing prostitution as well, and finally protecting the women and men who choose to do it. "I don't care if I get caught. If I do, I'll fight. I'm an adult, well aware of the effects things can have on my body. Why shouldn't I be in complete control of what goes in and out of it? I'm not hurting anyone."

It is about time that U.S. law caught up with the times and allowed both women and men to make decisions about their bodies and careers. Legalizing prostitution would remove incentives for traffickers here in the States and remove the high profit margins. It would also allow prostitutes legal protection and legitimacy to report any crimes against them.

Saur♥Kraut said...

I lived in Copenhagen and Sweden for a time in the 80s. I've seen what legalizing everything can do. It created a nation of lackadaisackal underachievers. I remember stepping over bodies in the gutters in parts of Copenhagen, and it wasn't considered unusual.

And, do we really want to add to the messes we already have? This is Pandora's box. Once you legalize marijuana, you will have a hard time changing that. And there are good reasons to run from it. If you have a drink or two, you can still drive and not be considered impaired. But can you imagine how people will be driving with only a toke or two? Let's also not forget that marijuana is much stronger than it used to be.

You're in good company, though, Polanco. Many people...even some conservatives (like the pundit Bill Safire) agree with you. And I see nothing wrong with allowing it for medical use, such as your friend needs.

I've seen arguments that smoking pot is no more medically helpful than any alternative medicines that are out there. However, the anecdotal evidence seems to disagree with that. And, if enough people say that it helps them, why would the Federal government not allow it?

Laura said...

There is a difference between "legalizing everything" and taking Marijuana off the list of drugs with "no useful purpose". They say that medical marijuana will lead to higher rates of illegal marijuana use. Well that may be, but should the people who benefit from it suffer for that? Don't people already abuse prescription drugs? Let's make Oxycontin and Ritalin and Xanax illegal then too - people abuse them! Hell, people abuse alcohol, let's make that illegal... oh yea, we tried that.

The point here is that Marijuana has a useful purpose in certain cases, and these uses need to be investigated and studied, not swept under the carpet. Its classification needs to be changed to allow it to be used for good under certain circumstances not simply labeled as universally bad.

Students for Sensible Drug Policy.

The Zombieslayer said...

PC - funny, we were just talking about this last night at spoken word. My personal opinion? The federal gov't is way too big. State's rights. Let the states decide things like marijuana laws. The only reason why the states aren't protesting more is the gov't bribes states with highway money.

I'm not for medical marijuana. I'm for legalizing it outright. I don't smoke it, but when someone's an adult and in their own home, let them decide what they want to do with their lives. One of the smartest people I knew smoked pot constantly to control his temper. Seriously probably saved a few people's lives. He was one guy I wouldn't want to mess with.

United We Lay said...

This is an actual friend. She is unmarried and has not children. Now figure out who Gracie and Phil are. It'll never happen! Thanks for the concern, though.

I think legalizing marijuana is important. I know this is a little contradictory, but I think chemically made or enhanced drugs should be illegal. Marijuana is a natural herb, and should be regulated as a vegitable.

greatwhitebear said...

If Sweden and Denmark are nations of slackers, why is their per capita in come greater than ours?

Saur♥Kraut said...

Great White, I shouldn't have said that they are nations of slackers but there are a hell of a lot of their citizens that are. I would love to see the statistics that you mention. Please let me know where you get the info that their per capita is greater.

And I never said that I disagreed with the medical use of Marijuana, remember. But my major concern is the abuse of the stuff if it became legalized because there are some side-effects you just can't get around.

Now, if it can be used in isolation, and if no one drives or operates machinery or does anything that requires them to be of sound mind while they're high, it would be fine to legalize the stuff. Unfortunately, as we all know, not everyone has that sort of self-control.

And don't ask me why alcohol is legalized either. I didn't do it! Sure it creates some real messes. But perhaps we can see that and realize that legalizing pot would at least double the current problems that we have with situations due to alcohol.

I'm not being preachy, just practical from where *I* am sitting. I don't mind if you don't agree.

United We Lay said...

What about regulation laws like we have for alcohol? I think that if it's poperly regulated, it could work. There is a lot of evidence to suggest that many illnesses, including depression can be helped with marijuana, and I think if it's a cheaper solution than pharmecuticals, we should explore the posibilities. I also honestly believe that it's not currently legal because the drug companies would lose such a large amount of money.

Saur♥Kraut said...


I'm not opposed to regulating substances like pot (if it was legalized, I think that would be the only sensible thing to do).

But I am still concerned that we would be introducing more problems than we would be solving. For instance, many people don't know that pot is MORE carcinogenic than tobacco is. Don't misunderstand, I'm not a puritanical prude. But when I am presented with incontrovertible facts like that, it gives me pause to think. I see generations of people dying from smoking pot when we're already trying so hard to wean them off cigarettes.

By the way, Polanco, you once mentioned that we don't talk as we write. Believe it or not, I really do talk like this. But I was brought up with 'big' words and they come naturally to me. I am not trying to sound intimidating. I want to make sure you understand that. I do love words though! Sometimes they can convey what you mean so much more succinctly than a paragraph of words could!

United We Lay said...

The Health Effects of Marijuana on Humans
by Marc Anderson

June, 1992

Marijuana has been used as a drug since the beginning of time, yet there are still many mysteries about its health effects on humans. Marijuana, or cannabis sativa, is a preparation of the crushed flowers and buds of female hemp plant. The existence of the plant has been reported as early as 1500-1200 BC. in China, and cannabis has been described as an analgesic as early as 200 AD (Walton, 1938). Since then, an overwhelming number of studies have attempted to explain the physical and psychological effects of cannabis on humans.

Physical Effects
Physically, cannabis is relatively harmless. Studies have observed interesting results, including that it causes structural changes in the brain, depresses male sperm counts, causes chromosome damage, lowers testosterone levels, and damages the lungs. Most of these claims, however, have been unreplicated in humans or have been contradicted by other work. This section will address each of these reported negative side-effects.

Various studies have claimed that cannabis destroys brain cells (Landfield et al., 1988; Haper et al., 1977; Meyers and Heath, 1979; Heath et al., 1980). However, several other studies found no structural or neurochemical atrophy in the brain at all (Cabral et al., 1991; Paule et al., 1992; Co et al., 1977; Kuehnle, 1977). Furthermore, it should be noted that Heath's work was sharply criticized for avoiding safeguards of bias and reporting "changes" that occur normally in the mammalian brain (Natl. Acad. of Sciences, Inst. Medicine, 1982).

Wu et al. (1988) found a correlation between cannabis use and low sperm counts in human males. This is misleading because a decrease in sperm count has not been shown to have a negative effect on fertility and because the sperm count returns to normal after cannabis use has stopped. (Natl. Acad. Sciences, Inst. Medicine, 1982)

Another claim made was that cannabis causes chromosome breakage. The primary source for this are studies that were conducted by Dr. Gabriel Nahas in the early 1980s. Nahas observed abnormalities in somatic (not sex) cells of rhesus monkeys in vitro (i.e., in test tubes and petri dishes) and then made the unjustified conclusion that these changes would occur in human bodies in vivo (in the body). Nahas' work was criticized by his colleagues and, in 1983, he backed away from his own conclusions.

A widely held claim has also been that cannabis lowers male testosterone levels (Kolodny, 1974). This theory has been challenged by several studies (Block, 1991; Mendelson et al., 1974; Coggins et al., 1976) that found no correlation at all. Marijuana and Health (Natl. Acad. Sciences, Inst. Medicine, 1982), also, after reviewing literature at that time, concluded that "Due to conflicting and incomplete evidence, it is not possible to conclude at the present time whether marijuana smoking has a significant effect upon gonadotropic and testosterone concentrations in humans."

The most serious physical danger of using cannabis is in smoking it. Inhaling any sort of burnt plant matter is not very good for the lungs. Tashkin et al. (1990) reports decreased gas exchange capacity and the existence of particle residue in the lungs of marijuana smokers several times greater than for tobacco smokers. Wu et al. (1988) noted that marijuana is several times more carcinogenic than tobacco. These findings, though, must be interpreted with caution. In both studies, smoked marijuana was not filtered, while smoked tobacco was. Tashkin et al. notes that, "these differences could largely account for more than twofold greater tar yield from marijuana than tobacco that was measured using syringe-simulated puffs of similar volume and duration." Smoking cannabis through a water-pipe will filter out water soluble carcinogens and will also greatly cool down the smoke. Furthermore, cannabis need not be smoked: In Middle Eastern countries, it has been consumed through teas and food for centuries, avoiding the carcinogenicity of smoke altogether.

Despite cannabis' known negative effects to lung function, it has never been reported to cause a single instance of lung cancer. Tobacco, though, is expected to kill 400,000 people this year (Glenn, 1992). If cannabis is so much more dangerous to a user's lungs than tobacco and is so much more carcinogenic, why aren't there stacks of reports of cannabis-induced lung cancer? One interesting theory is that it's because tobacco tars are significantly radioactive, while marijuana tars aren't at all. Winters et al. (1982) found that a pack-and-a-half-a-day smoker of tobacco is exposed to 8000 mrem of radiation a year, equal to the dose of 300 chest x-rays. A more recent study indicates that a pack-and-a-half-a-day smoker receives 16000 mrem of radiation more than a non-smoker, annually (NCRP Report #95, 1987). It could also be noted that the mere contents of carcinogenic chemicals doesn't necessarily indicate an extreme health hazard. For example, roasted coffee contains 800 volatile chemicals, of which only 21 have been tested on rodents, and of those, 16 were carcinogenic (Ames, 1990). Coffee has never been considered a great cancer-causing substance, though.

Cannabis has also been known for its many therapeutic uses, including the treatment of open angle glaucoma, asthma, and the nausea associated with chemotherapy. It has also been described as a tumor retardant, an antibiotic, a sleep-inducer, and a muscle relaxant (Cohen, 1980).

Psychological Effects
The psychological effects of cannabis use have been described quite many years before the physical effects, yet are as accurate today as they were 100 years ago. Following is an early account of its intoxicating properties made by Dr. John Bell in 1857:

"I had taken the drug with great skepticism as to its reputed action, or at any rate with the opinion that it was grossly exaggerated, and I accordingly made up my mind not to be 'caught napping' in this way again, and to keep a careful watch over my thoughts. But while enforcing this resolution as I supposed, I found myself, to my own astonishment, waking from a reverie longer and more profound than any previous. From skepticism, to the fullest belief of all I had read on the subject, was but a step. Its effects so far surpassed anything which words can convey, that I began to think I was on the verge of narcotic poisoning; yet, strange to say, there was not the slightest feeling of inquietude on that account. I resolved to walk into the street. While rising from the chair, another lucid interval showed that another dream had come and gone. While passing through the door, I was aware of having wandered again, but how or when I had permitted myself to fall into the reverie I was perfectly unconscious, and knew only that it seemed to have lasted an interminable length of time." (Bell, 1857)
The user of cannabis feels the onset of the "high" between 7 seconds (when smoking) and up to 30 minutes (after eating). This involves a relaxed and peaceful, yet sometimes euphoric state of mind. At high doses, it can cause hallucinations. The effects last from 2 to 4 hours after the drug is ingested, and it usually leaves the user in a relaxed state for several hours after the high. One of the main intoxicating properties is that short term memory is inhibited for the duration of the high. Thoughts may seem unclear, and it might be difficult for a user to concentrate on logical-complicated concepts like mathematics.

Long-term effects have been argued for many years. There are claims of an "amotivational syndrome" where users are said to withdraw from society and lose ambition. In reviewing evidence for and against the theory of this "syndrome," however, Marijuana and Health (Nat. Acad. Sciences, Inst. Medicine, 1982) concluded that:

"Such symptoms have been known to occur in the absence of marijuana. Even if there is an association between this syndrome and the use of marijuana, that does not prove that marijuana causes the syndrome. Many troubled individuals seek an 'escape' into use of drugs; thus, frequent use of marijuana may become one more in a series of counterproductive behaviors for these unhappy people."
Other studies have found another interesting correlation: Shedler et al. (1990) reported these results in a longitudinal survey of adolescents:
"Adolescents who engaged in some drug experimentation (primarily with marijuana) were the best adjusted in the sample. Adolescents who used drugs frequently were maladjusted, showing distinct personality syndrome marked by interpersonal alienation, poor impulse control, and manifest emotional distress. Adolescents who, by age 18, had never experimented with any drug were relatively anxious, emotionally constricted, and lacking in social skills."
Among other findings, Utah Power and Light spent $215.00 per year less on health insurance benefits for drug users than on the control group, and employees who tested positive for cannabis at Georgia Power Co. had a higher promotion rate than the company average, and were absent 30 percent less (Morris, 1991).
Whether cannabis use causes permanent physical or psychological changes in its users is still under question. The most serious concern is its effects on the pulmonary system, yet, studies have often used poor controls (i.e., no filtration) and their results can mislead an uncareful reader. Smoking the drug with a different apparatus or ingesting it without smoking at all could greatly effect the results of these studies.

The acute psychological effects of cannabis that cause its intoxicating properties are no mystery, as any user can report. Long term effects of cannabis use could possibly lead to the so-called "amotivational syndrome," but scientific evidence is lacking.

saurkraut said...

I'm tired, and don't have time to do a lot of research. But, I'd like to point out that there are many studies that counterract these assertions too.

You know that I respect your intellect and your opinions, so please understand I'm not attempting to argue or offend. Just pointing out my (this time) alternative viewpoint.

But thank you very much for the evidence. I'll look into it at a later time.

United We Lay said...

Disagree all you like! I'm not offended. I put up the research for everyone, and I'm continuing to look at both sides of the issue.