More Drug Testing Needed

smoking marijuanaIllinois and many other states have begun to explore the unknown land of legal marijuana. Illinois just became the 20th state to legalize marijuana for medical uses. Most Western states and most East Coast states north of Virginia have already taken that step. Colorado and Washington have legalized recreational use. Many more states have joined those two in supporting legislation which would prohibit the federal government from interfering with a state’s marijuana laws. Such a law would allow a state to decriminalize marijuana possession without worrying about federal drug laws.

The claims that marijuana is addictive in a way that other substances like alcohol are not, that marijuana usage leads to more dangerous drugs in a way that many other substances do not, that marijuana does more permanent mental damage than products advertised on TV every day, were always ideological, rather than scientific. Research not only made no difference to the proponents of banning marijuana, they actively prevented any research from happening, just as the NRA has prevented research into the effects of guns on our society.

All these old arguments that kept marijuana illegal for decades have fallen before a more powerful argument: marijuana can make sick people feel better. According to Wikipedia, cannabis has been shown to have the following medical uses: “the amelioration of nausea and vomiting, stimulation of hunger in chemotherapy and AIDS patients, lowered intraocular eye pressure (shown to be effective for treating glaucoma), as well as gastrointestinal illness. It also has antibacterial effects and is one of the best known expectorants.”

There is nothing new here. Traditional Chinese herbal medicine dating back 5000 years included cannabis as one of the 50 fundamental herbs. Modern medical studies indicate that marijuana may be useful in treating a remarkably long list of diseases, from bipolar disorder to colorectal cancer, from asthma to psoriasis.

It would be interesting to figure out when, how and why the opinions about marijuana of some segments of Americans have changed from the screaming anxieties of “Reefer Madness” to the broad acceptance for specific uses today. There is, however, no rush to complete that sociological project. But we are way behind in knowledge about what medical usage and legalization will mean, and we should already know that now.

Even if the dangers of marijuana have been exaggerated and its medical usefulness is incontestable, it is important for our society to know more about this drug as its use becomes legal across the country. For example, the new law in Illinois allows patients to obtain up to 2.5 ounces per week, or more than 8 pounds a year. That seems to me to be quite a lot. The sponsor of the bill, Rep. Lou Lang, a Democrat from Skokie, defended that number, saying that, “Most don’t smoke it, they cook with it or vaporize it.”

It is difficult to find easily accessible information about how much marijuana would be used with different methods of consumption. According to the World Health Organization, a weekly ration of 2.5 ounces would translate into 30 to 60 marijuana cigarettes (joints), which would be an enormous amount for one person on a regular basis. If Rep. Lang is correct (how does he know?), then recipes for pot brownies can be found all over the internet which also would provide a high and constant dose all week with much less than 2.5 ounces.

The question of how much is needed for medical use is much more complicated than that. Does a person’s weight matter? How about age or gender? Treatment for glaucoma might be very different than for nausea. It is not clear that doctors who might prescribe medical marijuana now know enough to write prescriptions tailored to particular patients and their ailments.

Proper dosage is just one of many questions about marijuana usage which can only be answered by research. For that reason, I advocate a serious program of drug testing. Not the kind which is designed to ferret out users of drugs in the workplace B that sort of drug testing is the product of the paranoid reactions to marijuana which have until recently characterized American society. We need scientific drug tests to determine how medical benefits can be maximized through the best methods of cultivation, processing, and dosage.

If our state government has determined that marijuana is a useful medicine, we need to know as much about it as we know about aspirin. Suddenly legalizing 2.5 ounces per week per patient without much more complete knowledge is reckless legislating.

steve hochstadtFortunately, marijuana is remarkably safe. Research published in The Lancet, one of the best known medical journals in the world, shows that “There are no confirmed published cases worldwide of human deaths from cannabis poisoning.” Unlike aspirin or alcohol or almost any other drug, marijuana has many possible medical uses with little danger to the user. It’s time to replace ignorance with knowledge, in order to get the most benefit from this ancient medicine.

Steve Hochstadt
Taking Back Our Lives

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Published by the LA Progressive on August 13, 2013
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About Steve Hochstadt

Steve Hochstadt is professor of history at Illinois College in Jacksonville, Illinois, and author of Sources of the Holocaust (2004) and Exodus to Shanghai: Stories of Escape from the Third Reich (2012), both from Palgrave Macmillan. He writes a weekly column for the Jacksonville (IL) Journal-Courier and blogs for the History News Network. "His latest work is presented at www.stevehochstadt.com."