By L.A. Williams, Correspondent
Christian Action League of North Carolina
RALEIGH – Dr. Joycelyn Elders, 15th Surgeon General of the United States and a longtime advocate for legalizing drugs, presented her support for a medicinal marijuana bill in North Carolina when she addressed the House Science and Technology Committee Wednesday. What she didn’t present was the full slate of facts about this mind-altering substance.
Introduced by Rep. Earl Jones (D-Guilford), whose joint resolution (H2405) calls for a taxpayer-funded study of medicinal marijuana, Elders proclaimed that the drug has been used for 5,000 years in some form or another and that “we know that marijuana is a safe and effective medication.”
In truth, marijuana causes short-term memory loss, distorted perception, trouble with thinking and problem solving, loss of motor skills, decrease in muscle strength, increased heart rate and anxiety (1) – and that’s just for starters. According to the Mayo Clinic, marijuana smoke contains 50 to 70 percent more carcinogenic hydrocarbons than tobacco smoke and has the potential to cause cancer of the lungs and respiratory tract.(2) Like tobacco, marijuana raises the risk of lung infections and weakens the immune system.
Despite the fact that the Food and Drug Administration reported in 2006 that “no sound scientific studies” support the medical use of marijuana, (3) Elders said the drug can safely be used as an appetite stimulant, a nausea suppressant and can relieve neuropathic pain.
“When you are having pain, you’ll take anything to try and get some relief,” she said. And indeed THC and cannabinoids, both components of marijuana, are among the substances that researchers are using to develop new pain medications. But marijuana is no panacea. A study completed last fall shows that high doses can actually increase pain.
“Our study suggests that there is a therapeutic window for analgesia, with low doses being ineffective, medium doses resulting in pain relief and high doses increasing pain,” said lead author Dr. Mark S. Wallace of University of California, San Diego, in a press release. Based on his findings, Wallace said he would not recommend marijuana as a method of pain reduction at this time. (4)
Elders was asked during a question-answer session if there was a higher than normal rate of suicide among chronic pain patients. Though she could not instantly cite a study, she said she was sure that was true. Dr. Laura Hanson, an associate professor and co-director of the UNC Palliativ Care Program who had earlier addressed the committee, said that people who endure chronic pain have higher rates of depression. What neither doctor discussed is the fact that marijuana itself has been linked to depression, anxiety and personality disturbances. Research published in the UK’s “The Lancet” medical journal last year suggests that even infreqent use of the drug could raise a user’s risk of psychosis by 40 percent. (5)
As for marijuana’s boosting cancer patients’ appetites, a 2001 study by the Mayo Clinic showed a standard treatment from Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. was more effective than a marijuana derivative. (6)
“Studies have already been performed that clearly demonstrate that there are other drugs available today that are equal in benefits and safer than the effects of medical marijuana,” said the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League of North Carolina, who was on hand to hear Elders speak.
The former Surgeon General alternately insisted that we need more studies on marijuana because earlier studies were not controlled and that we already have enough studies to know that marijuana works and is not dangerous.
She went so far as to say that “you can’t kill yourself smoking marijuana,” since marijuana users would be “out” before they could take in enough marijuana to be fatal. What she did not address is the fact that overdose isn’t the only way that drugs kill. In fact there are thousands of accidents each year – more than a few of them fatal – linked to marijuana use.
According to the Kaiser study, daily marijuana users have a 30 percent higher risk of injuries, presumably from accidents. (7) A survey of 1,023 emergency room trauma patients in Baltimore found that more than 34 percent were under the influence of marijuana. (8) And a 2005 study showed people who drive after using marijuana are almost twice as likely to be involved in a fatal car crash. (9)
Another of Elder’s claims regarding medicinal marijuana was her statement that “in the 12 states that have approved medical marijuana, they have not seen an increase in the use of marijuana.”
Anyone who truly wants to know the effects of legalizing medicinal marijuana need look no further than California, where Proposition 215 passed in 1996. The law was written to target “seriously ill” Californians, but the state’s Police Chiefs Association reports that marijuana use by healthy youth and adults is “at epidemic levels.”
“Experience shows that very few of those participating in medical marijuana fit this seriously, chronically ill category,” wrote Jerry P. Dyer, president of the Chiefs Association in an April 16, 2008, letter to Illinois authorities who had inquired about the issue. “Frequently officers contact parolees, probationers and gang members in possession of both marijuana and marijuana recommendations. Even more disturbing are children possessing physician recommendations and routinely using marijuana.” (10)
The marijuana study bill is expected to be sent to the Rules Committee.
(1) National Institute of Drug Abuse, Journal of the American Medical Association, Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, International Journal of Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics, Pharmacology Review.
(2) © 1998-2008 Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research (MFMER).
(3) U.S. Food and Drug Administration, April 20, 2006 release, “Inter-Agency Advisory Regarding Claims that Smoked Marijuana is a Medicine.”
(4) Fox News; Oct. 24, 2007.
(5) Moore, T. H. M., Zammit, S., Lingford-Hughes, A., Barnes, T. R. E., Jones, P. B., Burke, M., Lewis, G. (2007, July 28-August 3). Cannabis use and risk of psychotic or affective mental health outcomes: A systematic review. The Lancet, 370, 319-328.
(6) Marijuana Appetite Boost Lacking in Cancer Study” The New York Times, May 13, 2001.
(7) Herbert Moskowitz, Marihuana and Driving, Accident Analysis and Prevention 17#4: 323-45 (1985).
(8) Carl Soderstrom et al., Marijuana and Alcohol Use Among 1023 Trauma Patients, Archives of Surgery, 123: 733-7 (1988).
(9) French National Institute for Transport and Safety Research, published in the British Medical Journal, Dec. 2005.
(10) California Police Chiefs Association, April 16, 2008, letter from President Jerry P. Dyer to Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police Deputy Director Limey Nargelenas.