“We have been terribly and systematically misled for nearly 70 years here in the United States, and I apologize for my own role in that,” wrote Dr. Sanjay Gupta in a monumental CNN column this week. Dr. Gupta is CNN’s chief medical correspondent – and after years of opposing medicinal marijuana, he has reversed his views.
Dr. Gupta’s article shines a light on a number of reasons why it was easy to perceive marijuana as inherently dangerous – even his own bias: “I didn’t review papers from smaller labs in other countries doing some remarkable research, and I was too dismissive of the loud chorus of legitimate patients whose symptoms improved on cannabis. Instead, I lumped them with the high-visibility malingerers, just looking to get high.”
Under the Drug Enforcement Agency, marijuana is listed as a schedule 1 substance. Schedule 1 substances are classified as the most dangerous drugs with “a high potential for abuse.” Under this guide, cocaine and meth are considered less dangerous than weed, as they are listed as schedule 2 substances.
Dr. Gupta also draws attention to the specific wording of a letter written in 1970 by Assistant Secretary of Health, Dr. Roger Egeberg. Dr. Egeberg recommended that marijuana be listed as a schedule 1 substance. He wrote,
“Since there is still a considerable void in our knowledge of the plant and effects of the active drug contained in it, our recommendation is that marijuana be retained within schedule 1 at least until the completion of certain studies now underway to resolve the issue.”
Therefore, marijuana was classified as extremely dangerous because of a lack of knowledge about it. And we have continued, for years, to classify it in such a sloppy manner. As for its supposed high potential for abuse, Dr. Gupta aptly notes that the addiction rates for marijuana hover between 9 to 10%, yet cocaine hooks about 20% of its users.
Approximately 6% of current US studies on marijuana are designed to prove the benefits of marijuana. The other 94% are being administered to detect harm. Perhaps the most shocking piece of information from Dr. Gupta’s article, however, was this: “While a cancer study may first be evaluated by the National Cancer Institute, or a pain study may go through the National Institute for Neurological Disorders, there is one more approval required for marijuana: NIDA, the National Institute on Drug Abuse. It is an organization that has a core mission of studying drug abuse, as opposed to benefit.”
Logically, if you were employed by the NIDA, would you want to approve many studies that seek to prove medical benefits of marijuana? This could potentially jeopardize your job. This blatant bias could be preventing us from making true medical breakthroughs.
It’s easy to talk about the facts of medical marijuana, but if you’re still not convinced I encourage you to think about this young girl whose seizures have only been controlled by medicinal marijuana, or this 11-year-old severely autistic boy whose self-destructive rage is soothed by medicinal marijuana.
Do you think the parents of those young people wanted to treat their developing children with medical marijuana? I doubt it. So why do we allow the state to claim a lack of evidence in order to withhold someone’s last chance at medical redemption?