Humans have cultivated and used the flowering tops of the female cannabis plant, known colloquially as marijuana, since history was recorded. Archaeologists in Central Asia even found over 2 pounds of cannabis in a 2,700 year-old grave of a shaman. Written and pictorial evidence of cannabis use is scattered throughout numerous cultures indicating a wide acceptance and use of the plant for thousands of years.
Drug Classification Halts Use
Federal prohibitions outlawing the therapeutic and recreational use of cannabis were first imposed by Congress with the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937. Later, the plant’s organic compounds (cannabinoids) were classified as a Schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970.
This classification puts the plant in the same pool as heroin and states that cannabis possesses “a high potential for abuse … no currently accepted medical use … [and] a lack of accepted safety for the use of the drug … under medical supervision.”
In contrast, cocaine and methamphetamine – illegal for recreational use, may be consumed under a doctors supervision and are classified as Schedule II drugs. Examples of Schedule III and IV drugs include anabolic steroids and Valium. Analgesics that contain codeine are defined by law as Schedule V drugs, the most lenient classification.
In Support of Therapeutic Use
Federal lawmakers continue to use the dated drug classification as a means to defend criminalization of marijuana. However, there appears to be very little scientific basis for the categorization of the plant. As its prohibition has passed 75 years, researchers continue to study the therapeutic properties of cannabis.
There are over 20,000 published reviews and studies in scientific literature that pertain to the cannabis plant and its cannabinoids, almost one-third of these have been published in the last 4 years. A keyword search on PubMed Central (the US government library of peer-reviewed scientific research) shows 2,100 studies alone since 2011.
Modern culture is now catching up on what our ancestors knew, and public opinion and relaxing state legislation are leading the way for more people to use medicinal marijuana for a wide number of medical conditions. At present, marijuana for medical purposes is legal in 20 states and the District of Columbia.
While the debate continues to boil at both state and federal levels, there has been a strong and growing trend of acceptance related to the growing body of scientific evidence indicating that marijuana may indeed contain some powerful medicinal properties that we would be foolish to overlook.
Joycelyn Elders, MD, former US Surgeon General, wrote the following in a Mar. 26, 2004 article titled “Myths About Medical Marijuana,” published in the Providence Journal:
“The evidence is overwhelming that marijuana can relieve certain types of pain, nausea, vomiting and other symptoms caused by such illnesses as multiple sclerosis, cancer and AIDS — or by the harsh drugs sometimes used to treat them. And it can do so with remarkable safety. Indeed, marijuana is less toxic than many of the drugs that physicians prescribe every day.”
Ray Cavanaugh, PhD, National Director of the American Alliance for Medical Cannabis (AAMC), wrote the following in a 2002 article titled “The Plight of the Chronically Ill,” posted on the AAMC website:
“Many of the chronically ill have successfully sought relief with the use of medical cannabis, an age-old remedy that now shows real scientific efficacy. Hundreds of thousands of the sick have replaced disabling narcotics and other psychotropic medications with nontoxic and benign cannabis. The anecdotal evidence is overwhelming. Folks with spinal injuries able to give up their walkers, AIDS patients able to gain weight and keep their medications down, cancer patients finding relief from the terrible nausea of chemotherapy, chronic pain patients once again functional with their consciousness restored from narcotic lethargy, and folks once disabled from crippling psychiatric disorders and addictions, returned to sanity and society with the assistance of a nontoxic herb with remarkable healing powers.”
The American Nurses Association (ANA) wrote the following in its Mar. 19, 2004 “Position Statement: Providing Patients Safe Access to Therapeutic Marijuana/Cannabis,” posted on the ANA website:
“The American Nurses Association (ANA) recognizes that patients should have safe access to therapeutic marijuana/cannabis. Cannabis or marijuana has been used medicinally for centuries. It has been shown to be effective in treating a wide range of symptoms and conditions.”
Researchers at the University of California Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research announced findings from a number of randomized, placebo controlled clinical trials on the medical utility of inhaled cannabis in 2010.
The studies used the FDA ‘gold standard’ clinical trial design and reported that marijuana should be the “first line of treatment” for patients suffering from neuropathy and other serious illnesses.
Neuropathy is a type of pain associated with diabetes, cancer, spinal cord injuries, HIV/AIDS and other debilitating conditions. The trials indicated that marijuana controlled pain as good or better than available medications.
Scientists continue to study the effectiveness of Cannabinoids all over the world. In Germany there have been over 37 controlled studies, with over 2,500 subjects, assessing the safety and efficacy of marijuana, since 2005. In contrast, most FDA-approved drugs go through far fewer trials with less subjects but are approved for use.
The research on cannabis has shifted from studying its ability to alleviate symptoms of disease such as nausea associated with chemotherapy to its potential role in modifying disease. Medical marijuana has been shown to slow the onset of Alzheimers disease and moderate autoimmune disorders including multiple sclerosis, inflammatory bowel disease and rheumatoid arthritis.
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