Dr Weed

by Tracks September 04, 2015 4 min read

From Tracks September issue 540: Marijuana makes the shift from evil weed to medical wonder drug.

Words: Kirk Owers

Illustration: Sam Squire

They rarely do things by halves in America. When they turned on marijuana last century they made possession a federal offense, banned scientists from studying it, produced propaganda suggesting it leads to “murder! insanity! death!” and pushed for a global drug war that cost endless billions. How times have changed. Four US states have legalised marijuana and six more are expected to follow by 2016. The moral panic has subsided and law enforcement has been shown to be useless. The radical rethink is proving popular and most Americans now favour complete legalisation.

Some of the most persuasive reformist voices have come from patients whose lives have been transformed by medicinal marijuana. The drug’s active components have been shown to help people cope with a range of debilitating illnesses including chemo-related nausea, glaucoma, chronic pain, insomnia and muscle spasm in multiple sclerosis and dravet syndrome. In some cases it has been able to reduce the number of epileptic seizures children with schizencephaly have from 200 a day to none. Experts believe marijuana’s medical value is likely to grow now that it’s finally allowed to be examined in the laboratory.

Spanish biochemist Manuel Guzman has been working with cannabis for 20 years and is known for his ground-breaking research into its potential as an anticancer agent. He found that a cocktail of cannabis components can completely cure a lab rat of brain cancer. While Guzman stresses the research has a long way to go before it’s applicable to humans he welcomes the renewed legitimacy of the drug. “The mind-set is opening around the world and funding agencies now know that

cannabis, as a drug, is scientifically serious, therapeutically promising, and clinically relevant,” he told National Geographic recently.

Medical marijuana is now legal in Canada, Israel, The Netherlands and 23 American states. Elsewhere Portugal have decimalised all drugs while Ecuador, Columbia and Jamaica are all looking into legalisation options. In Australia, by contrast, seriously ill patients are still forced to break the law while we set up lengthy trials to determine if cannabis is beneficial. Why the delay when overseas trials have already been done and even our arch-conservative PM says he has no problem with medical marijuana?

For one thing the marijuana debate is clouded with all kinds of prejudices, paranoia and misinformation. Advocates claim marijuana is a harmless gift from nature while detractors argue it’s highly addictive and causes mental health disorders, particularly schizophrenia. The hard science shows both views are wrong.

The Medical Journal of Australia says there is now firm evidence that marijuana is physically much less addictive than most recreational drugs and half as addictive as alcohol. However it also says that significant social, behavioural, educational and mental problems can result from frequent use of cannabis by young people (aged 15–25 years). Regarding schizophrenia a review of the evidence found only that marijuana can accelerate its expression at an earlier age and may aggravate existing schizophrenia.

Even if you believe marijuana is too hazardous to legalise the evidence suggests prohibition has next to no effect on curbing usage. In tough-on-drugs Australia

you can get sniffer-dogged for sneaking a doob into a music festival but we remain, per capita, among the most enthusiastic tokers in the world (alongside Kiwis and Americans). The World Health Organisation studied 17 countries and found that nations with strict possession laws did not have lower levels of drug use than ones with more relaxed laws. The Medical Journal of Australia concludes: “There is no rational basis for the view that weakening prohibition to permit use for medical condi- tions would lead to a surge in general use.”

Of course rational arguments don’t always win the day when it comes to hot button issues. While most Australians support medical marijuana the vast majority want weed to remain illegal. However polling shows this view has softened in the last five years and if America is a reliable guide if will continue to do so. It’s hard to demonise a drug that is considered less harmful than alcohol, brings welcome relief to cancer patients and exhibits properties that have potential to reshape the world.

Wait – reshape the world? That’s not a Bob Marley quote. That’s coming from American evolutionary biolo- gist, Nolan Kane. Interviewed in National Geographic Kane had this to say about the future of cannabis. “So much of science is incremental but with this cannabis work, the science will be transformative. Transformative not just in our understanding of the plant but also of ourselves — our brains, our neurology, our psychology. Transformative in terms of the biochemistry of its compounds. Transformative in terms of its impact across several different industries, including medicine, agriculture, and biofuels.”

Better hang on to that Rastafarian flag.

The post Dr Weed appeared first on Tracks Magazine.