Medical Minute 5-5: Addiction Wars: Marijuana: Medicine or Easy High?

By: Ramin Khalili Email
By: Ramin Khalili Email

Curt Knudson inhales medicinal marijuana every day. He takes it to help improve his appetite. Since he was diagnosed with HIV and hepatitis, keeping weight on has been a challenge.

"With the use of marijuana, I have interest in food. It helps just with a better quality of life," said Curt Knudson.

"If I wanted a strong dose, I would probably take a brownie about this size," said Knudson.

Curt is able to purchase everything from plain marijuana to "pot butter" with a prescription from his doctor. It's legal in his state and 15 others.

Shaun Gindi - who runs a marijuana dispensary - says many of his clients are in desperate need of pain relief.

"I've had people cry on my shoulders because they've been on morphine for 20 years," said Shaun Gindi, Compassionate Pain Management.

A recent study offered insights on how medicinal marijuana works in the body. Researchers found a special molecule in pot activates a protein called cannabinoid receptor type-two. When that biological "button" is pushed, it soothes the immune system, increases bone mass and blocks pain signals.

But drug expert Mike Gimbel says "medicinal marijuana" is a joke.

"The goal of medical marijuana programs, in my opinion, is to make marijuana available to the general public, so they can have it without getting into trouble," said Mike Gimbel Drug Expert St. Joseph Medical Center.

He says there are very limited studies on the benefits. In fact, a recent review by the American Medical Association found fewer than 20 randomized clinical trials of smoked marijuana for medical uses -- which only involved 300 people total. Unlike other drugs -- marijuana has not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration. It has instead become a political issue in many states.

"Why is marijuana being approved by politicians?"

"If they were serious about using it to help sick people, they would let the Food and Drug Administration handle it, because they know how to do it best."

Then -- there are the side effects. A person's heart rate increases by 20 to 100 percent shortly after smoking. One study found pot users have almost a five-fold increased risk of heart attack during the first hour of smoking. Some research has shown marijuana is linked to mental health conditions - like schizophrenia. And -- there's the debate over whether it's addictive. Most estimates suggest about nine percent of users become addicted.

"Is it addictive? Yes, and everyone knows it is. You can't solve this by legalizing it."

"My take on the marijuana battle is it is the most useless waste of energy that I have ever seen in my life."

An excuse for addiction or a real medical therapy? Right now -- the answers aren't clear-cut.

For more information on other series produced by Ivanhoe Broadcast News contact John Cherry at (407) 691-1500,
MARIJUANA AS MEDICINE THROUGHOUT HISTORY: Cannabis has been used as medicine for over 4,000 years: the ancient Egyptians used cannabis to treat sore eyes, and cannabis was used to treat earaches in ancient Greece. During the latter half of the 19th century, however, cannabis lost its image as a medicine and gained its image as a drug. In 1915, Utah was the first US state to pass an anti-marijuana law, and in 1924 cannabis was declared a narcotic at the Second International Opiates conference. The Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 effectively banned marijuana in the US, and in the 1970s, congress declared marijuana a schedule I controlled substance: it had no medicinal value and the highest potential for abuse. However, in 1996, California and Arizona became the first states to legalize marijuana for medical use under a doctor’s supervision. Now, medicinal marijuana is legal in 15 states and Washington D.C. The first cannabis-based prescription medicine, a mouth spray called Sativex used to treat multiple sclerosis, was released in the UK in 2010.
PROS: People who support the use of medicinal marijuana often base their arguments on the fact that:
• Marijuana can ease the pain of a terminal illness (or in some cases, it can help ease symptoms that come as a side-effect of drugs used to treat terminal illnesses)
• Marijuana is seen as a safer, more natural way to deal with suffering associated with serious illnesses.
• There is less risk of addiction associated with marijuana.
• Out of the ten states that had legalized marijuana by the year 2006, eight states saw a decrease in teen use of marijuana between 1999 and 2006.
CONS: Those against the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes cite many concerns such as the health risks associated with marijuana and the “gateway effect,” among others.
• There is a lack of legitimate, scientific studies showing marijuana’s benefits, and its lack of FDA approval.
• Smoking marijuana leads to heart and lung health risks, as well as the risk of impairment of perception, judgment, learning and memory. In 2002, the British Lung Foundation reported that 3-4 marijuana cigarettes a day were just as damaging to the lungs as 20 tobacco cigarettes a day.
• Marijuana has long been considered a “gateway drug,” meaning the use of marijuana can lead to harder drugs, such as cocaine or heroin.

 For More Information, Contact:

Shaun Gindi
Compassionate Pain Management

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