Just this past week I read of Lyle Craker, a professor at the University of Massachusetts who studies medicinal plants. He cannot get permission from the federal government to grow marijuana for medical research. This, despite the fact that nineteen states (Massachusetts being the 18th) allow for the use of so-called “medical marijuana” to east the sometimes debilitating effects of serious illness.
Medical marijuana. These two little words can make normally rational people cringe, and I have to say that I do not understand this reaction. After all, about 40 percent of our prescription medicines come from plant extracts or synthesized plant compounds. Plant-based medicines are everywhere and probably occupy a bottle or tube (or ten) in your bathroom cabinet or the bottom of your purse.
I don’t personally indulge in recreational drugs, and I thank God that I have not had to deal with any of the issues that seriously ill people have to face. But, let’s separate the recreational from the medical arguments for and against legalizing marijuana. And let’s forget the old-wives’ tales on gateway drugs. Let’s talk science.
Developing life-saving medicines from plants has been going on for millennia. One of the earliest such uses, recorded in the Ebers Papyrus from ancient Egypt (c. 1550 BCE), is a prescription for cannabis sativa, used as a topical treatment for inflammation. Others include:
Penicillin, developed from mold
Aspirin, from willow bark
Thymol, a powerful antifungal and antiseptic, from thyme
Quinine for malaria, from the Cinchona tree
Menthol, from mint
As for marijuana, scientific studies conducted by reputable researchers at renowned medical centers have demonstrated the following encouraging results:
A compound derived from marijuana could stop metastasis in many kinds of aggressive cancer.
Marijuana has been shown to help people suffering from depression.
Marijuana has been shown to help people suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Marijuana has been shown to help people suffering from the pain, depression, and weight loss experienced with advanced AIDS.
Marijuana-like chemicals trigger receptors on human immune cells that can directly inhibit a type of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) found in late-stage AIDS.
If we can save lives, or even help alleviate severe pain and discomfort, then let’s do it already. Let’s stop this nonsense about refusing to allow even the growing of the plant for medical research. That our elected leaders continue to obstruct medical research is an embarrassment. It makes us look stupid.
If clinical testing proves that marijuana itself, or medications developed from it, can help combat disease or allow seriously ill people to cope better with pain, nausea, and other symptoms, then let’s take the next step: regulate it as a pharmaceutical product should be.
And distribute it as a trusted medicine should be distributed. Asking people to go to dispensaries that look more like head shops than legitimate pharmacies is not only inconvenient. It’s insulting and disrespectful of people who are already suffering enough.
So, what am I missing here?