Los Angeles Times editorial. For a muscular agency that combats vicious drug criminals, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration acts like a terrified and obstinate toddler when it comes to basic science. For years, the DEA and the National Institute for Drug Abuse have made it all but impossible to develop a robust body of research on the medical uses of marijuana.A pro-marijuana group lost its legal battle this week when a federal appellate court ruled that marijuana would remain a Schedule I drug, defined as having no accepted medical value and a high potential for abuse. The court deferred to the judgment of federal authorities, quoting the DEA's statement that "the effectiveness of a drug must be established in well-controlled, well-designed, well-conducted and well-documented scientific studies.... To date, such studies have not been performed."But guess who bears responsibility for this level of ignorance? The DEA itself, which through its ultra-tight restrictions on marijuana has made it nearly impossible for researchers to obtain the drug for study, and the National Institute for Drug Abuse, which controls the availability of the tiny quantity of research-grade marijuana that is federally approved for production.The few, smaller studies conducted so far suggest marijuana has promise as a medicine, but they're far from conclusive. The National Cancer Institute and the Institute of Medicine support further research.The judges had it right: In the absence of scientific evidence, they are not in a position to make medical decisions for the country or to set research priorities for the U.S. government. But the Obama administration can and should put the dark ages of uninformed fear behind us and release the death grip of the DEA and the National Institute for Drug Abuse on research-grade marijuana. President Obama then should direct the National Institutes of Health to fund worthwhile research, just as he recently ordered the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to research gun violence.
I just visited the National Institute on Drug Abuse's web site for Drug Fact Awareness Week in order to find out what "facts" they are citing about marijuana. I have to say I'm fairly impressed that, unlike the vast bulk of the prohibitionist activists and institutions, NIDA has incorporated some of the undeniable science into its presentation. Gone are the warnings of lung cancer and emphysema as well as the dire warnings about brain damage and other degenerative maladies. This is big news, for years the agency has promulgated to notion that using marijuana triggers a sort of chain reaction of physical and mental degeneration, but now science has shown that in fact, the opposite is true. Ingesting marijuana actually triggers a chain reaction of health enhancement--physical and mental by supplementing our natural health-building compounds, the endocannabinoids. In terms of steering teens away from marijuana (which is a good idea for reasons I discuss in Chapter 19 of Marijuana Gateway to Health) NIDA now " Emphasizes three essential messages about smoking marijuana: it is addictive, it can lead to school failure, and it impairs driving." I agree with the last two and take issue with the claim that marijuana is "addictive." This depends on how one defines addiction. If one looks at how cocaine, alcohol and heroin addict users, marijuana does not conform to this model. In fact what are cited as symptoms of marijuana withdrawal in some chronic users who cease ingesting cannabis sound suspiciously like the adverse symptoms experienced by subjects in a clinical trial of a CB1 cannabinoid receptor-blocking drug--rimonabant. When this cannabinoid receptor antagonist (blocking agent) was administered to the test subjects, they experienced significant increases in anxiety, insomnia, depression, panic attacks, anorexia, suicides, accidents and other problems. So if you have a person who has an endocannabinoid deficiency, due to a lack of production of endocannabinoids or due to their too rapid deterioration and they are benefiting from supplemental cannabinoids through smoking or otherwise ingesting the plant or its extracts and they are suddenly deprived of those supplemental compounds, are they addicted in what has unfortunately become the criminal nature of the term? The physical symptoms cited as marijuana withdrawal sound very much like subtle versions of the ailments caused by blocking the CB1 endocannabinoid receptor. Is it possible that the body is therefore reacting negatively to a decrease in healthful levels of a beneficial compound?Certainly in teens, marijuana use can result in undesirable habituation. I earlier discussed how the wonderful effects of marijuana on relieving the sense of the mundane and heightening novelty can create a harmful, limiting obsession with using it in teens whose brains are intensely primed to seek out novelty and how these effects can interfere with the evolutionary/cultural goals of continuing to seek novelty which is part of the maturation and developmental process. In other words, since marijuana so easily provides novelty, it can thus short circuit novelty-seeking behavior which expands social circles and moves the teen away from the family home. Prohibition amplifies this stunting effect by pushing teen users into outlaw cliques which tend to attenuate broader social contacts. This is a psychological habituation rather than the type of gripping physical addiction one finds with tobacco, coffee, cocaine and opiates. The effects of marijuana can indeed impair learning and lead to school failure. Of course being arrested for marijuana and taken to juvenile hall or jail could also create an impediment to learning and achievement, one far more harmful than using cannabis. And as far as driving impaired is concerned, it is definitely more dangerous for teens because: a) they have had less time to become skilled users of marijuana (regular users of marijuana show little to no impairment on most tasks while high) b) their driving skills are still inadequate for the same reason, not enough time behind the wheel to be effective in challenging and unexpected situations. Combine these two deficits and there could be trouble. The amplified risk-taking behavior can encourage a teen to drive while too high whereas an adult would know when to say "no." This is one principal way in which driving high differs from driving drunk. Marijuana smokers tend to know when they are too impaired to drive and refuse to take the wheel or they drive with far more caution than normal, where as drunks suffer from a serious impairment in judgement that masks their self-awareness of impairment. This is not the case with teens whose brains are geared toward the emotional and exciting rather than the rational and sensible. It is good to see the death throws of official reefer madness policy, now as more science is generated, perhaps NIDA will continue to edit its message to reflect reality and realize that it is no longer necessary to preserve the inhumane policy of destroying the lives of those who enjoy using and or growing marijuana. A logical question an opponent might pose is: But isn't there an opiate receptor system and does that mean that junkies have an opiate deficiency such as you mention for marijuana? The difference is that the endocannabinoid system has a much broader scope of activity than does the opiate receptor system and I am unaware of any data indicating that supplemental opiates help to discourage the rise of numerous degenerative illnesses as cannabinoids do. It seems that opiate addiction results from an overloading of the system with these compounds, which recall can ultimately result in death. Excess cannabinoids just seem to make most things better in terms of health.