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 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.