By Dr. Murray Dease, The Starphoenix
Re: Welcome to ‘legalized dope-pushing’ (SP, July 24). With respect, I must disagree with Dr. Louis Hugo Francescutti, president of the Canadian Medical Association (CMA), regarding medical marijuana.
His comments in the cited article are misinformed and misleading. After I recently reviewed the medical literature on cannabis for a presentation to my colleagues, I can attest that there are, in fact, hundreds of studies that show the benefits of cannabis in treating conditions as varied as cancer and the effects of chemotherapy, chronic pain, HIV, multiple sclerosis, intractable epilepsy, Alzheimer’s disease, and many others.
Studies at our own University of Saskatchewan have shown cannabislike drugs promote nerve regeneration in the brain, and may have anxiety-reducing and anti-depressant effects.
Investigations into the effects of cannabis date back to the Indian Hemp Commission study of 1893 and the Laguardia Committee Report of 1944. These studies, as well as reports from the British Wooten Committee, the Canadian Le Dain Commission, the Dutch Baan Commission, the Commission of the Australian Government, and the U.S. National Academy of Sciences in the ’60s and ’70s all came to the general conclusion that the dangers of cannabis had been greatly exaggerated, and that the drug might provide legitimate medical benefit.
The chief medical correspondent for CNN, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, recently reviewed the medical literature and concluded: “Cannabis does not have a high potential for abuse, has very legitimate medical applications and is sometimes the only thing that works. Regarding marijuana, we have been terribly and systematically misled for nearly 70 years.”
I agree with Dr. Francescutti in his implication that marijuana is not “magical.” It is also not harmless. Marijuana is a drug, and it must be respected. Like any drug, its potential benefits come with risks, some of them very troubling. We also must remember that all prescription medications prescribed by doctors today have risks.
For example, an article in The American Journal of Medicine states that approximately 107,000 patients are hospitalized annually for gastrointestinal complications related to non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) drugs such as naproxen and ibuprofen, and at least 16,500 NSAID-related deaths occur each year among arthritis patients alone. Yet NSAIDS are widely available over the counter.
The recreational drugs that are sanctioned by our society also have major risks. The U.S. Centres for Disease Control states that “excessive alcohol consumption is the third leading preventable cause of death in the United States and is associated with multiple adverse health consequences, including liver cirrhosis, various cancers, unintentional injuries, and violence. In 2001, excessive alcohol use was responsible for approximately 75,000 preventable deaths in the United States.”
To expect cannabis to have no potential adverse effects is an unreasonable standard.
I am disappointed by how Dr. Francescutti flippantly dismissed the possible benefits of cannabis with comments about “legalized dopepushing” and munchies. Cannabis has been used by millions of people with far fewer ill effects than many legal drugs, both prescription and recreational.
Cannabis has been shown in good scientific studies to provide benefit. Many of the therapies, medications and procedures we benefit from today were ridiculed when they were first introduced. If science teaches us anything, it is that we need to keep an open mind.