Cannabis: Gateway Drug or the Future of Medicine, Part 1

It’s a pretty polarizing topic these days. Many states are getting the opportunity to vote to legalize Cannabis or at least to allow it to be prescribed medically. The U.S. government and many in the medical field claim that it has no medical benefit that would justify its alleged potential for abuse. At the same time, stories of how people plagued with epilepsy, chronic pain, horrible nausea from cancer treatment, etc who are calling treatment with cannabis life saving are hard to ignore indeed. Cannabis researchers are announcing incredibly exciting treatment possibilities for a number of debilitating diseases. There have even been some promising trials using Cannabis to kill cancerous tumors. Amid all the clamor, well respected evangelists such as Franklin Graham have joined in on the side of the government, urging Christians to “vote against these laws that are harmful to youth, our nation, and to our future.”

But, has cannabis always had such a bad reputation, or are we just too young to remember its history? If the government truly believes that cannabis has no medical benefit, then why do they hold a patent on particular compounds included in the cannabis plant? Patent number 6,630,507. After all, the government patent states that, “…cannabinoids (some compounds in the Cannabis plant) are useful in the prevention and treatment of a wide variety of diseases including auto-immune disorders, stroke, trauma, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and HIV dementia.” The patent was awarded to the US government in 2003 based on research by the National Institute of Health.

First let’s take a look at the largely forgotten (or in the case of the younger generations- never learned) history of medical Cannabis. You may be surprised to hear that Cannabis, in fact, has a medical history that spans at least a few thousand years. To see a historical timeline of Cannabis used for medicinal purposes all over the world for at least the last few thousand years you can check out this Historical Timeline from ProCon.org. Cannabis has been utilized in the Middle East medicinally for thousands of years. It’s numerous medical uses are well documented in ancient cultures- the Arabs, Assyrians, Egyptians, Romans, Greeks, and Indians to name a few.

In the 1850’s, the medical benefits of Cannabis were widely known in the US. Doctors routinely prescribed it for neuralgia, typhus, opiate addiction, gout, convulsive disorders, among many other afflictions. Don’t you find it ironic, that historically, marijuana was used to treat opiate addiction? Fast forward to our current advanced medical age and we consider it to be a “gateway drug” while liberally prescribing synthetic opiates for pain relief.

Back in those days, there were no pharmaceutical standards to speak of when it comes to the “quality control” of medication. Doctors of ill repute (often called “snake doctors”) were known to prescribe medications that contained mostly alcohol and very little medicine. So, in 1906 Roosevelt created the FDA which required medications to be accurately labeled (yes, at one time the FDA was actually good and functioned with the benefit of the consumer in mind- I know, hard to imagine now.)

In 1913, the US government announced that it had “succeeded in growing domestic cannabis of equal quality to the Indian… “By 1918, some 60,000 pounds were being produced annually, all from pharmaceutical farms east of the Mississippi.” In the 1930’s there were actually two American pharmaceutical companies, Parke-Davis and Eli Lily, that sold marijuana extracts for use as “antispasmodics and sedatives”.

However, as this article, Medical Cannabis: The REAL reason the Government Wants to Keep it Banned for Health Impact News notes, the medications that pharmaceutical companies produce often have a “life cycle”. They produce a particular medication until the patent expires. “…then they will introduce a replacement medication, usually at a higher cost, which may or may not actually perform better than the medicine that was replaced.”

Indeed, by the mid 1930’s , almost all US states had enacted laws to regulate Cannabis and its use for medicinal purposes had declined due to the introduction of aspirin, morphine, and opium-derived drugs. In a medical hearing before Congress regarding a proposed Marijuana tax act in the late 30’s, Dr. William C. Woodward, (the legislative council for the American Medical Association) stated, “There is nothing in the medicinal use of Cannabis that has any relation to Cannabis addiction…To say, however, as has been proposed here, that the use of the drug should be prevented by a prohibitive tax, loses sight of the fact that future investigation may show that there are substantial medical uses for Cannabis.” Congress wasn’t impressed; the tax act was passed and it made possession of Cannabis criminal unless prescribed by a doctor.

So, contrary to what you may believe, medical Cannabis was legal in the US until Nixon’s war on drugs in 1970. Nixon’s IRS used the US tax code to penalize legal medical marijuana dispensaries. They were not allowed to deduct business expenses from their taxes, write off the cost of rent, payroll, or advertising, etc. The IRS effectively taxed legal dispensaries out of business. Nixon’s war on drugs focused heavily on Cannabis, associating it with recreational use and abuse only, and ignoring its long history of healing properties. When the federal drug classification system was established Cannabis was placed in schedule I, indicating that it has no medical value and is a danger to public health.

To put this in perspective, schedule II drugs are described as having high potential for abuse, yet are allowed to be prescribed medically. Examples of schedule II narcotics include hydromorphone (Dilaudid), methadone (Dolophine), meperidine (Demerol), oxycodone (OxyContin, Percocet) and fentanyl (Sublimaze), morphine,opium, and codeine. You may recognize some of these if you have been prescribed pain medication following a surgical procedure or have required some type of short term pain management. You may also recognize these names from the nightly news where we are inundated with reports of prescription narcotic abuse and overdose deaths. Cannabis is listed as so much more dangerous than these drugs that its use outweighs any potential benefit. Is this true? Is Cannabis truly THAT addictive?

Not according to research or frankly according to any logical awareness of the world around you. Dr. Sanjay Gupta cites “…approximately 9% of people who use recreational cannabis will develop some level of addiction.” Alcohol has an 11% addiction rate comparatively. Cannabis has a lower rate of addiction than alcohol. Can you imagine the public outcry if the government tried to make alcohol illegal? Don’t start confusing substance abuse here, for the topic at hand. Those are two completely different animals.

Speaking of substance abuse, is Cannabis addiction as dangerous or even deadly as say, hydrocodone (which is synthetic heroine, by the way)? Think back. When is the last time you heard of someone dying from a marijuana overdose? Can’t think of any? That’s because there are literally no reported Cannabis overdose deaths. As in zero. None. Can you say the same for any of the narcotics listed as schedule II? Hardly. On the contrary, prescription narcotic abuse and overdose deaths are not A drug problem, they are THE drug problem.

So the logic the the government has going here is that Cannabis is too dangerous to be prescribed despite the mounting evidence of its amazing medicinal value- because, although it isn’t actually very addictive or particularly deadly- it leads to the abuse of other highly addictive and potential deadly drugs which incidentally are not deemed too dangerous to be prescribed. Hmmm.

What is the logic of anti- medical Cannabis Christians? Is using medical marijuana a sin? Not according to anything ever written in the Bible. Unless of course you are coming from the angle of being obedient to the laws of your government, those claiming medical Cannabis is a sin don’t have a Biblical leg to stand on. When it comes to your Christian vote not to legalize medical Cannabis on the grounds of “public safety” or “my body is a temple” or because an evangelical like Franklin Graham is anti medical Cannabis, I’m afraid the hypocrisy is too thick for me to navigate.

The same Christian who would be horrified to be prescribed Cannabis or a Cannabis derivative would demand their Percocet or Dilaudid to relieve pain after surgery. Even though, ironically, from a “body is a temple” stand point- medical Cannabis does not have anywhere near the toxicity or the harmful side effects of any legally prescribed synthetic pain killer.

The Bible cautions against excess or abuse. It does not designate specific substances as “sinful”. If you have no moral issue with taking a narcotic post surgery, you should have no moral issue with someone using Cannabis for medical purposes.

The same Christian who would condemn a medical marijuana user because of the government given stigma, will regularly engage in gluttony or survive off of a processed and fast food diet without batting an eyelash. For the record, I have a lot of respect for Franklin Graham- but he has no medical expertise that I’m aware of. Has he personally researched or discussed the benefits of medical Cannabis with anyone qualified to advise him? I’ve never seen him claim that he has. Therefore, his opinion of the medical value of Cannabis doesn’t even register on my radar. In fact, I find it to be quite a hypocritical stance since I do not find him campaigning to make highly addictive prescription narcotics illegal due to their devastating effects on our youth.

I mentioned previously that our government currently holds a patent to certain compounds of the Cannabis plant for specific medical uses. A cursory knowledge of patent law lends a transparency to the motives of our government and shockingly- it isn’t public safety. According to Douglas Sorocco, a biochemist and intellectual property lawyer in Oklahoma, “If a composition exists in nature, it is not patentable according to the Supreme Court unless it has somehow been changed or manipulated by the hand of man.” If the government can’t hold a patent- they can’t make money from it. The National Institutes of Health (a government entity), also known as NIH, then advertises patents (such as those related to cannabinoids) as available for licensing. The NIH then grants licenses to certain companies to develop these synthetic cannabinoids. Mark Rohrbaugh, special advisor for technology transfer at the NIH describes it this way, “It’s like a piece of land. You wouldn’t build a million-dollar house on a piece of land you wouldn’t have some title to.”

And- there you have it. Exactly what is going on now with respect to Cannabis research in the US. A prime example is Kannalife, who according to their website hold the “first two licenses awarded to develop and commercialize drug treatments under the US government’s only cannabinoid patent.” Check out their glowing description of their synthesized Cannabinoids to treat two neurological diseases caused by none other than damage to the liver from alcohol and prescription pill abuse.

Back to history…While the US black balled medical Cannabis in favor of more lucrative synthetic pharmaceutical options, an Israeli doctor- Dr. Raphael Michoulam- was making groundbreaking medical discoveries with it in his home country of Israel. In Part 2 of this article, we’ll talk about Dr. Michoulam’s amazing discoveries and their implications for those who suffer from conditions that our medical community can currently offer no hope.

Obamacare, RINOs, The Freedom Caucus, and Broken Promises

Well, it’s been a fun week in politics. Democrats are in a decidedly celebratory mood. Republicans, however, are all over the map. Some are furious that the Freedom Caucus stood in the way of “incremental progress”. Others (in my opinion, those of us that “get it”) are relieved that Ryan’s bill, which somehow managed to be even worse than Obamacare (quite an accomplishment) was declared DOA. Some that were happy to see the bill fail, are still trying to give Trump the benefit of the doubt when it comes to his support ( and let’s just admit it- bullying tactics) for Ryan’s boondoggle. Still others (raising my hand in this category also) aren’t cutting Trump any slack.

Here you have it- a Congressional week in pictures:

We’re going to repeal and replace Obamacare!

Ryan’s bill is offered…

Freedom Caucus Responds, Part one:

Freedom Caucus Responds, Part two:

RINO’s and Trump demand Congress back this bill or be stuck with Obamacare…

So, the Freedom Caucus Says:

But, why was the Freedom Caucus so stubborn? To understand that, you need to understand how Obamacare works.

One of the main goals of Obamacare was to ensure that individuals with pre-existing conditions would be covered by insurance. Of course, that sounds wonderful.  But immediately you are faced with the question of how to force insurance companies to agree to take on customers that they already know they are going to lose big $$$ on.

There is only one answer- you must force the insurance companies to insure these people. But this demand creates another problem. If insurance companies are forced to cover those with pre-existing conditions, they’ll just charge a bazillion dollars for the policies. So, we’d still be in the same boat. These people would have “access” to coverage, but not the financial ability to purchase it.

To fix this problem, Obamacare included what is called the community rating system. The community rating system forces insurance companies to charge everyone basically the same price for insurance (with very little leeway).

Do you see what problem this causes? If insurance companies are forced to insure everyone for roughly the same price, pre-existing conditions or not, why would anyone bother to buy insurance at all until you need to use it?

This would inevitably lead to what is called the “death spiral”. Most people don’t purchase insurance until they need to use it, so premiums have to rise to astronomical levels for insurance companies to remain solvent. Eventually, all insurance companies would fail.

Enter Obamacare’s individual mandate which levies a hefty penalty tax to people who don’t purchase insurance. The plan was to avoid the death spiral by forcing people to join the insurance pool, which would theoretically keep premium prices at an acceptable level.

The problem is- it didn’t work. Even with the government literally forcing people (to the best of their ability) into the insurance pool- they still didn’t get enough healthy people “into the pool” to pick up the financial slack. Insurance companies are failing left and right. Huge amounts of people are experiencing premium increases so large and policies that are so worthless that they can no longer afford to be insured. As Nathan Keeble puts in in his article for fee.org, “…government interventions necessitate more and more interventions to fix the problems they create.”

As you can see, just the elementary aspects of the bill we have discussed are so intertwined that if you remove one element, the whole shebang falls apart. It’s like a really complicated clock with a million gears, that has always kept horrible time (but at least you still know maybe what day it is), however when you open it to see what’s wrong, all the tiny parts explode into a useless mess. You could try to have an expert fix it. But why bother since it was crap to begin with?

So, what did Ryan put on the table to fix this debacle? Well, Ryan’s bill kept the requirements for pre-existing conditions and community ratings, but did away with the features that were necessary to fund the boondoggle in the first place- the mandate. To offset this devastating loss of funds, he inserted the 30% mandatory penalty that individuals have to pay to purchase insurance if they have previously been uninsured for a long period of time.

Obviously, if the individual mandate was insufficient to fund Obamacare in the first place, this little penalty would be like trying to put out a fire by spitting on it.

But that didn’t keep Trump and the RINO’s from claiming that this was the “first step” in a progressive repeal processs. Give me a break! The only thing this bill would have accomplished is a still failing health care system- this time with a Republican stamp on it.

The most eye roll inducing thing I’ve seen since the bill’s failure, is Trump denying his campaign promises regarding the full repeal of Obamacare:

https://www.facebook.com/NowThisPolitics/videos/1498673280164157/

I’ve seen lots of theories from conservatives regarding why Trump would push this bill ranging from “he just really needs this resolved to move on to tax reform” all the way to “he was allowing Ryan to hang himself from his own noose.” Obviously, not getting all the saved $$$ from health care reform poses a real issue for his plans for tax reform. Of course, only time will tell. But in the meantime, Trump continues to vilify himself via Twitter:

Donald J. Trump‏Verified account @realDonaldTrump

The irony is that the Freedom Caucus, which is very pro-life and against Planned Parenthood, allows P.P. to continue if they stop this plan!

  • Retweets 13,021
  • Likes 59,497
  • Mimi Hannigan Joe gervasi Susan Brittain Starlos Sharon Erwin Karim Graidi Joseph Hunt VENUGOPALAN ELAMANA Lorna Muhlbach

5:23 AM – 24 Mar 2017

Don’t get me wrong, in my opinion, Trump was the only choice in this election and I’d vote for him again under the same circumstances. With that being said, I’m not cutting him any slack either.

Trump has guts, I’ll give him that, but I don’t know if any human being has the guts or the ability to do what actually needs to be done when it comes to health care because so many people are convinced that a completely “fair” system exists if only the selfish “over privileged” Americans would just step up and fund it. Of course, they list various foreign countries as proof that it can be done. But if these same individuals would take the time to research these countries to see what they do to make universal health care possible, they would realize that these countries pay a whole heck of a lot for that health care- it just comes in other forms. If you’d like to borrow my research on Denmark to get an idea what I’m talking about, you can check out my blog post, The US Could Learn a Thing or Two From Denmark.

Sadly, as has become the norm, most of these individual’s want all the “benefits” with none of the cost. The “something for nothing” generation.

The U.S. Could Learn a Thing or Two From Denmark

 

We’ve all heard it- how much better Denmark is than the US on oh so many levels. I mean, take it from the Occupy Democrats meme below: Denmark has free healthcare, college,  and childcare. To make matters worse those lucky Danes have a whopping $20/hr minimum wage and only have to work 33 hours a week. The conclusion- the US has got to be doing it wrong. So please, by all means lets learn about how awesome Denmark’s system is!! Are you ready!! I’m so excited!!

Let’s start with that free college. It’s free, but Danes do not get the same freedom of choice when it comes to what subject they want to study. Their choices are limited to what fields the Ministry of Education think that Denmark needs more graduates in. Want to be a writer? A teacher? You better hope the Minister of Education sees a need for more of those.

Now on to minimum wage. Actually, Denmark doesn’t  have a “national” minimum wage, but we won’t split hairs. Due to union and other agreements they have an “effective” minimum wage of 110 DKK/hr (Danish Krone). The current exchange rate is 1 DKK= .15 USD. So, that’s $16.50 an hour- not $20, but still beats the heck out of the US minimum wage, right? Not so fast.

Denmark has a progressive tax structure, but the 2016 personal income tax rate listed on tradingeconomics.com is a whopping 55.8%. Talk about a chunk out of that paycheck! To add insult to injury, when you go shopping in Denmark, be ready to add a hefty 25% to your purchase (no matter what you’re buying) in the form of Denmark’s VAT tax. Want to buy a car? Get ready to shell out a 105% tax on your vehicle (up to a value of 82,800 DKK or $12,420 USD) and 180% tax on any value exceeding that 82,800 DKK mark- according to pwc Worldwide Tax Summaries. What did you pay for your last vehicle?

Do you want to own a TV, phone, or computer in Denmark? Be ready to fork over an additional 20% tax. Once you have your TV, phone, or computer you’ll probably want to be able to use it, right? Well then, you’re going to have to come up with extra cash to pay for your “licens” fee, which is the fee that you pay because you now have the ability (it doesn’t matter if you’ll actually tune in or not) to pick up the Denmark Radio signal. That amounts to 205 DKK per month.

For an eye opening glimpse into the financials of an actual Dane- H. Roland J. has been so nice as to share his for one month in 2015 in his blog post, Denmark- The Paradise of Fools.

    • He has a monthly salary of 25,000 DKK or about $3,750 USD.
    • Then comes the first portion of his personal tax at 8%.
      • That amounts to 2,000 DKK or $300 USD leaving him with 23,000 DKK or $3,450 USD
    • He then subtracts his “bundfradrag” or “bottom deduction”, which for him for 2015 came out to 3,433 DKK per month of non-taxed income (besides the 8% it was already taxed). Let’s subtract that amount to put into his pocket and see what he has left to pay more taxes with- 19,567 DKK or $2935.05 USD.
    • His county tax was 24.9% leaving him with- 14,694.81 DKK or $2,204.22 USD
    • Time out!! If he, at this point, made more than 37,000 DKK per month, he would be subject to an additional 15% “topskat” tax. He doesn’t, so let’s continue.
    • He now pays a 4% “health tax”- leaving 13,784.32 DKK or $2,116.05 USD
    • This adds up to, in this man’s tax bracket, an income tax rate of 44%.
    • So, now he has 13,784.32 DKK or $2,116.05 USD left- before living expenses of course.
      • I already mentioned that when paying bills, they also must add in the 25% sales tax. He paid his bills with the “disposable” income that was not taxed (3,433 DKK) and ended up with 10.34 DKK or $1.55 USD left over.
    • This guy doesn’t want to pay for TV or phone so if you couldn’t live without those, you’d have even more to pony up.
    • He then pays the “afgift” or extra tax on all utilities. He uses his power bill to illustrate how that works:
      • His power bill was 994.64 DKK for a 3 month period, ($149.20 USD) in which he used 358 Kilowatt hours.-Charges from the electric company were 111.06 DKK plus 30 DKK for membership plus sales tax comes to 176.33 DKK ( $26.45 USD)
      • The electric company charges .37 DKK per kilowatt hour, but the state imposes an “electricity transportation afgift” at .21 DKK per kilowatt hour (almost as much as the electric company charges for the electricity!) making his electric afgift 80.89 DKK for the period.
      • THEN, the Denmark government adds a sales tax of 20% onto the afgift! So a government tax on a government tax, for those who are keeping tabs.
      • SO- of the 994.64 DKK he paid for electricity, only 141.06 DKK went to the actual electric company and the bloated 853.58 DKK went to the government!

Sorry, but so far, the words “Awesome Deal!” are NOT what is coming to my mind when I take a good look at Denmark. Regardless, I know there are many people out there saying, “But they get free healthcare and that makes it ALL worth it!!” Well, in case you haven’t noticed- that health care AIN’T “free”. This healthcare better be awesome! Is it?

One interesting fact to note is that in addition to the “free” government health care provided, Danes have the option of purchasing separate “private” insurance- sort of makes you wonder why this is even needed if the government health care is “all that”. Two additional facts: in Denmark your doctor must refer you to a specialist or you don’t see one and your doctor must refer you to the hospital or you don’t go. An American expat who now lives in Denmark explains her experience with the Danish health care system in her blog post, Free-Health Care in Denmark- My First Hand Experience. Her article is definitely NOT a Denmark health care bashing article, but actually just an honest recounting of her personal experience, which has been both good and bad.

She explains from the outset that health care is a straight up 8% line item deduction of gross pay. Denmark’s “free” health care option does not cover physicals, vision or dental care, and only partially covers mental health services if the government covers it at all. Danes pay full price for prescriptions until a personal threshold is reached after which they are progressively discounted. She notes that, “In nearly six years, I’ve never had my total yearly prescription cost in Denmark come in below that of my $10-$20 US co-pay.” (You can tell she hasn’t lived in the US for a while- I’d kill for a $10 co-pay!!) She has actually crunched the numbers and admits that she pays roughly 6 times as much for her “free” health care in Denmark than she did for her employer sponsored plan in the US.

She then admits that her initial experience with Denmark’s heath care was abysmal. Her doctor was absolutely horrible and misdiagnosed her twice. The last diagnosis could have ended up causing her “irreversible damage” had she not moved and had access to a better doctor. Of course, she is currently very happy with her new doctor so she has changed her mind about the quality of Denmark’s health care. She also notes that Danes have the opportunity to purchase private insurance (which I mentioned earlier) and that this insurance allows you to “jump queue” if you need to see a specialist with a long waiting list or need access to mental health services. This of course implies that, those who pay more, get to “cut line” in front of those who receive the “free” health care when it comes to seeing a specialist. Hmmm…

By the way, in Denmark there is no such thing as a malpractice suit. As of 1992, Danes cannot sue a doctor for malpractice. You’ll be hard pressed to find any article on this topic that gives anything other than a glowing account(like this one, How Denmark Dumped Medical Malpractice and Improved Patient Safety) of how this is revolutionizing health care by being in the best interest of both doctors and patients, but I’m skeptical and I’ll tell you why. First, instead of taking your case before a jury of your peers, you must submit a claim to “medical and legal experts” for review. These “experts” review your claim based on two criteria:

  1. The “specialist rule”: How did the treatment you received compare to care an experienced specialist would provide? If it wasn’t equal, you are entitled to compensation.
  2. “Fairness rule”: If you experienced a severe medical event that occurs less than 2% of the time, you are eligible for a “reward.”

#1 strikes me as extremely subjective and I suppose according to #2 if you aren’t a medical anomaly you’re out of luck. Sounds totally “fair”. But worry not! If you aren’t happy with the decision you can appeal- to a seven member board of doctors, patient representatives, an attorney, and two representatives of the Danish health care system. I’m sure it’s not as susceptible to corruption as it seems…

If we’re going to follow Denmark’s cue, Forbes points out that we’re going to need to let up on our business regulations and decentralize our government. Wait, Democrats are not for either of those things! US businesses migrate overseas every opportunity they get, but the Danes apparently realize that they can’t support their “entitlements” without making Denmark business friendly- so they do. Denmark businesses are far less regulated than US businesses.

Denmark’s government is less centralized than the US government. For example, Denmark taxes are astronomical, but only 3.76% of income taxes are national. The large portion of income tax comes in at the community level. So the taxes they are paying benefit their communities rather than being directed through Washington like ours.

This is all well and good, but some people out there are still saying this is all worth it if the poor are better off in Denmark. Are they? The poorest 10% in the US have adjusted incomes almost exactly the same as the poorest 10% of Danes. The poor in Denmark do not enjoy any higher standard of living than the poor in the US. However, the rich in Denmark definitely aren’t as rich as the rich in the US. But Denmark’s poverty rate is lower, you say!! Did you know that the US is the only country in the world that calculates poverty before benefits are received? (Debt.org)Unless you take this into account you are comparing apples and oranges.

We’ve gone through all of this, and I haven’t even mentioned the fact that Denmark only has a population of 5.7 million compared to the US’s population of 325.8 million. To say that the Denmark government operates on a smaller scale is the understatement of the century.

So, the next time someone tells you that the US needs to learn from Denmark, you can ask- what lessons specifically? Denmark’s crushing 55% income tax rate, whopping 25% VAT tax, taxes on utilities, taxes on the taxes on their utilities, monthly license fees for TV, computer, and phones? No covered dental or vision benefits and limited mental health benefits? Paying full price for prescriptions up to their government imposed “deductibles”? No legal recourse for medical malpractice? Lack of educational free will? Or perhaps they are referring to Denmark’s decentralized government and their relaxed business regulation?