Medicinal Meddling

It's intentional that I haven't written much over the years about marijuana.

For one thing, I could only in good conscience write about it from a medical standpoint. And since it seems like the overwhelming bulk of the dialogue about the drug centers on its political aspects, its medicinal properties - and I'm not saying I'm certain there are such (I've seen evidence on both sides) - seem always to take a backseat. Because of this, the subject of marijuana use just hasn't come up very often in contexts I've found it necessary to weigh in on.

But now that the FDA has issued an April 20th statement condemning the substance as conclusively having no value as a treatment for disease, I feel like I have some jurisdiction to speak on the matter

Though in wide use as a recreational and medicinal drug from early in this century, since the 1960s, marijuana has become more than simply a drug, but a symbol for many of the struggle against governmental oppression, and of personal freedom. Which leaves me a bit torn, since I'm typically all about personal freedom (as long as its tempered with accountability), and I'm almost unilaterally against excessive Federal regulation.

However, I'm also not for rampant self-medication with substances we've really only half-explored. Seriously, for as much spotlight time as marijuana gets on the public stage, precious little actual scientific study has been conducted on the substance. Whether this is for political reasons or not is irrelevant. It's simply so. Sure, marijuana has been shown to be helpful for certain specific medical conditions (like glaucoma and nerve pain), but are these limited benefits enough to justify its mass legalization, like so many who support the drug seem to be angling for?

Also, let's not forget that the double-edged sword of capitalism hangs poised over this issue. On the one hand, if marijuana remains technically illegal (11 states have declared it legal for medicinal use, yet a 2005 Supreme Court decision allows federal authorities to arrest pot-smoking patients even within those states), America will continue to pay the price of the robust and violent black-market pot trade. If it's made legal, the government gets to line its own pockets by regulating and taxing it like they do tobacco or alcohol.

Bottom line: It's a Catch-22 - neither of these outcomes is ideal.

But whatever side of the argument you fall on, it's clear that a lot of people (including many doctors, for what that's worth nowadays) at least BELIEVE in the benefits of the plant for certain conditions. In my opinion, this fact alone - even if it is one day shown to be only the placebo effect - may warrant giving the drug its "day in court." Keep reading

If you can strip the issue of marijuana-as-medicine down to its barest essence, free from all political agendas or policy ramifications, the substance itself seems, by all credible reports (I can't say first-hand), to be no more intense or mind-altering in its effects than any number of other natural therapies - including some I often recommend, like kava, caffeine, and St. John's wort.

That's why it seems very suspicious to me that the FDA should so emphatically denounce marijuana. Study after study have shown just how effective the placebo effect (the power of the mind) can be in treating and curing disease. So if patients out there smoking grass believe it helps them - and it can't be demonstrated that it HURTS them - then I say marijuana therapy falls into the same category as chiropractic, acupuncture, and other "unproven" medicine many people nonetheless swear by

In other words, if they're not willing to study its effects fully, they shouldn't be allowed to outlaw it - at least not for MEDICAL reasons. Should this new FDA "marijuana mandate" stand, it would set a dangerous precedent: It gives the power to dictate what's medicine and what isn't to the very people who determine what gets studied and what doesn't. In that world, how would any alternative treatments get validated by science?

If they want to outlaw marijuana for reasons applicable to interstate commerce, national security, an inability to guarantee its safety, or other legitimate reasons, that's another matter - one that's out of my area of expertise. But for the Feds to say marijuana isn't "medicine" draws my ire. ANYTHING that helps people feel less pain or anxiety that isn't proven harmful qualifies as medicinal in my book.

And let's not forget that these are the same folks that cast their blessings on prescription "medicines" that kill and main us by the millions per year! Yet I've never seen or heard of even ONE instance in which someone died from marijuana poisoning.

Personally, I'd rather see folks smoking a little legal grass than popping Cox-2 Inhibitors for joint pain - or taking addictive, suicide-inducing antidepressants for day-to-day stress management

And I'd also rather see them have the right to more medical choices rather than fewer.

Huffing, but not (pot) puffing,

William Campbell Douglass II, MD