The not-so-high times on medical cannabis

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Michael Swickard

“What are you, people? On dope?” – Oft-quoted line from 1982 film Fast Times at Ridgemont High

There are parts of the medical cannabis debate that the media never seems to cover. While it is very complex, I want to address some of the issues. The use of medical cannabis is often portrayed by opponents with a wink and a smile as if people are getting away with something. They are not sick; they just want to get high.

Correction: The majority of people who are attracted to medical cannabis are not pulling a fast one on society. This substance may be their only relief. Without it they will just have to suffer. I say this without a “dog in the fight.” I do not and have not used marijuana nor do I want to use it. But I have had cancer.

In 1996 I heard the chilling words, “Michael, you have cancer. We must operate immediately.” Luckily, while I endured a long operation and radiation, I did not require chemotherapy, which might have been even more obnoxious. But it was a physical tussle and I feel for those who now suffer.

Three major problems

Fast forward to today, and there is a brisk debate about what patients in several categories may find helpful in their quest to endure that which is somewhat unendurable. There is pain that modern pharmacology does not alleviate. Likewise, there are other conditions that do not respond well to conventional treatments. Some patients find medical cannabis does give relief.

There are three major problems with using medical cannabis: First, there is not clarity as to the difference between current street drugs illegally for sale and medical cannabis. Second, the use of medical cannabis, while legal in some states, is not legal nationally. A citizen can be both legal and illegal at exactly the same moment. Finally, there are questions as to the proof of beneficial effects.

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Point number one: In general medical cannabis is not intended to get patients high. In fact, that is not at all what is wanted by most patients because then those patients cannot drive or go to work. It is important to realize that habitual users of medical cannabis must also continue their life.

Know this: There are two main varieties of cannabis, sativa and indica, and each has medicinal qualities. They are seriously different, though. What many people who are looking for relief seek are the cannabinoids rather than the compound tetrahydrocannabinol, abbreviated as THC. Often street marijuana is loaded with THC to produce the high, but it has little of the important cannabinoids for people with chemotherapy nausea.

Most media attention about medical cannabis seems to proclaim that all cannabis is exactly alike and those using medical cannabis are using the same substance as is sold illegally on street corners. This is simply not so. In fact, medical cannabis is more expensive than street marijuana.

The second point we must address is that the use of medical cannabis is legal and illegal at exactly the same moment. In a nation of laws it is unacceptable to have an action by a citizen to be legal and illegal at exactly the same moment. It haunts the notion of a nation of laws.

Finally, we have the notion that medical cannabis provides actual relief not available by traditional pharmacological substances – and the notion that it does not. There are some studies that provide results to both conclusions. In my conversations with quite a few people who use medical cannabis, I have received their testimony that nothing else provided relief. This includes street marijuana, which, again, is a different variety.

A political football

Medical cannabis is a political football about politics and not about medical relief. Politicians are afraid of the subject because to embrace medical cannabis is considered a political liability. Look at what happened to presidential contender and former N.M. Gov. Gary Johnson, who opined that the drug war was not working and so a new approach is appropriate. He can never be president with a relaxed view of illegal drugs.

An anti-cannabis stance is unfortunate because it needlessly condemns some people to a very unpleasant ending of their life without the relief of medical cannabis. Repeat, needlessly.

Swickard is co-host of the radio talk show News New Mexico, which airs from 6 to 9 a.m. Monday through Friday on KSNM-AM 570 in Las Cruces and throughout the state through streaming. His e-mail address is michael@swickard.com.

4 thoughts on “The not-so-high times on medical cannabis

  1. I think that medicinal marijuana has its’ place in treating certain afflictions. But I am afraid of the potential for abuse. It was in the news yesterday (10-21-11) where the California AG acknowledged that she shares the concerns of federal prosecutors about the proliferation of gangs and criminal enterprises that seek to exploit the medical marijuana law (1)

    Until the patient exhausts all avenues of synthetic products or cannabinoids, I would be leery of allowing the smoking kind.

    The federal government does not support the program and specifically excludes it from the Medicare program, but they will not prosecute someone for using marijuana if prescribed for a valid affliction.

    “It will not be a priority to use federal resources to prosecute patients with serious illnesses or their caregivers who are complying with state laws on medical marijuana, but we will not tolerate drug traffickers who hide behind claims of compliance with state law to mask activities that are clearly illegal,” Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. said in a statement. (2)

    As for qofdisks’ statistic that 99% support legalization in some way or another (if that is what you are saying) , well, call me suspicious of the data sources.

    This in not a Right or Left issue. I read 99% pro-legalization on the Daily Caller all the time in the comments section.

    (1) http://www.businessweek.com/ap/financialnews/D9QGMNN00.htm
    (2) http://articles.latimes.com/2009/oct/20/nation/na-medical-marijuana20

  2. I wouldn’t day never be elected. The majority of people favor legalization and a super majority favor legal medical marijuana.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/21/republican-candidates-legalizing-marijuana_n_1023838.html#s425305&title=Related

    This in not a Right or Left issue. I read 99% pro-legalization on the Daily Caller all the time in the comments section. I see the same in all the other news site as well.
    It is a populist issue but, the money interests own our political system…again.

  3. Michael:

    There has been marvelous work with JWH-018, CP-47497, HU-201, WIN55,212, and CP55,940 which were all experimental compounds being investigated for their efficacy in animal models of inflammation, pain, and other maladies. Structurally, they are not cannabinoids, but all of them were designed to target the cannabinoid receptor or serve as a fatty acid amide inhibitors that would modify the cannabinoid receptor function.

    Somehow, these experimental compounds got into the mainstream black market and transformed into herbal pot substitutes like Spice and Kronic.

    Too bad the good work of a few just might be lost due to abuse from this sub-culture of head shops and pot heads.