History of marijuana as medicine

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    The U.S. government considers marijuana to be a Schedule 1 substance, along with heroin and LSD. This outlaws its use by physicians, as Schedule 1 drugs are believed to have a high potential for abuse and no medical value. This has not always been the case. Cannabis has a long and storied past in the medicinal world.

    Marijuana comes from central Asia, and as early as 2737 B.C. it got its start as a treatment when the Chinese emperor Sheng Neng prescribed it as a useful combatant against gout, rheumatism, and poor memory. Eventually it spread to India, North Africa, and Europe around A.D. 500. By the 19th century, medical marijuana had been fully embraced by Western physicians, who published over 100 articles recommending its use.

    In 1937, however, the Marijuana Tax Act was endorsed. The act led to the criminalization of cannabis and made medical research of the plant extremely difficult.

    Nevertheless, clinical study has persevered, albeit apprehensively, and now major health organizations, including the American Public Health Association, support the use of marijuana as supervised medicine. The American Medical Association and the American Cancer Society support large scale research studies of the drug's potential.

    Marijuana has been shown to reduce nausea in chemotherapy patients and to restore the appetites of AIDS sufferers. Numerous other ailments have also been reportedly mitigated by marijuana treatment; glaucoma and multiple sclerosis among them.

    Voters in America have responded fairly well to this information. As of today 13 states-Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington-have passed laws allowing the prescription of medical cannabis. Meanwhile, the federal government still views marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug, and retains the right to prosecute anyone, including patients, who are in possession of it. However, so far that federal interference has remained at a minimum, though raids on distributaries are not unheard of.

    Robert Keel, professor of sociology here at the University of Missouri St. Louis, believes that the federal government's position on this matter is wrong. "It doesn't make sense, marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug inhibits research," Keel said.

    There remains a subset of patients that do not react well to marijuana even in areas where it has repeatedly proven itself, like nausea reduction.

    Dr. Tod Mikuriya, a perennial proponent of the use of medicinal marijuana, perhaps described the weed impasse best when he said in 1969, "To the agriculturist, cannabis is a fiber crop; to the physian, it is an enigma; to the user, a euphoriant; to the police, a menace; to the trafficker, a source of profitable danger; to the convict or parolee and his family, a source of sorrow."

    Joe Schaffner

    Issue date: 9/21/09 Section: Science & Health


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