Old fogies like my friend Granlund may make fun of it – Cheech and Chong humor has remarkable staying power – but Sanjay Gupta’s apology is serious business.
Gupta, so popular and respected Obama wanted him for surgeon general, had been your typical medical establishment voice against medical marijuana, predisposed to think it worthless, he explains:
“Long before I began this project (a documentary on cannabis as medicine), I had steadily reviewed the scientific literature on medical marijuana from the United States and thought it was fairly unimpressive. Reading these papers five years ago, it was hard to make a case for medicinal marijuana. I even wrote about this in a TIME magazine article, back in 2009, titled “Why I would Vote No on Pot.”
“Well, I am here to apologize.
“I apologize because I didn’t look hard enough, until now. I didn’t look far enough. 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.”
Gupta’s deeper research into the research found lots of papers showing the medicinal benefits of marijuana – all before 1930. Then the drug was criminalized. In 1970, the DEA classified it as a Schedule 1 drug with no medical application – because research was incomplete. The research has been incomplete ever since, because the U.S. drug abuse and drug enforcement bureaucracies kept it from being done. Gupta found “about 6% of the current U.S. marijuana studies investigate the benefits of medical marijuana. The rest are designed to investigate harm. That imbalance paints a highly distorted picture.”
Voters in 20 states have now broken the drug warriors’ grip on medical marijuana policy, and the research is at last picking up steam. What is emerging is a drug that isn’t just for getting high and easing glaucoma. Cannabis is amazingly effective at treating neuropathic pain. Last year I spoke with a woman who had been nearly killed in an auto accident and was in constant pain. They gave her plenty of oxycontin, which dulled the pain, but left her zonked out and addicted. But marijuana – much less dangerous, addictive and debilitating – helped her live a normal life – except for having to break the law to get it. Gupta says hers is a most typical story.
But more research is showing even more promise. Marijuana, in turns out, may be useful in treating PTSD and diabetes, and maybe helping prevent cancer.
Thanks for nothing, drug warriors.
Gupta’s documentary on medical marijuana will be shown on CNN Sunday night. I’ve added taking marijuana off Schedule 1 to my list of laws and policies I’d like to see repealed, in a column that will run Sunday.