This is my conclusion after four years of giving public talks to clinicians about cannabis (aka marijuana): They want more information about marijuana facts. What I find repeatedly in my audiences is a substantial lack of knowledge about the subject accompanied by a high level of interest. Articles about cannabis in the media provide information about the rapid pace of political developments as well as opportunities for parties on all sides of the legalization debate to express opinions. The relative lack of unbiased information, however, leads to misconceptions flourishing and nonproductive emotional controversies intensifying.
Much of the ignorance can be attributed to the effective efforts of Harry Anslinger, the first head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics from 1930 to 1962. Unlike the current scenario where some physicians being too liberal in prescribing opioid pain medication has led to a national crisis of opioid addiction, overprescribing of pharmaceutical cannabis was not a problem in the 1930s when Anslinger began his campaign. Citing multiple instances of homicidal mania, purportedly due to the use of cannabis, he engineered a series of laws and regulations that removed it from the hands of practicing physicians and scientific researchers despite the protests of the American Medical Association.
One of the results of Anslinger’s efforts is a striking discrepancy between the knowledge about cannabinoids within the medical community in this country compared to those in countries such as Israel, Canada, England and the Netherlands. The basics about the important endocannabinoid system are not being widely taught in medical schools, and pharmaceutical companies are being deterred from developing medical formulations. Instead, an entire industry of medical cannabis growers and distributors is evolving outside of the traditional pharmaceutical community with understandable struggles regarding quality and reliability.
There is no question in my mind, as well as in the minds of most of my colleagues, about the danger of cannabis addiction. At Kolmac, we see many instances of people whose lives have been seriously impacted by cannabis as well as many others for whom continued use of cannabis interferes with their recovery from other substances. The elaboration of the other side of the picture, namely the potential medical benefits that this complex substance may provide, is having difficulty getting a fair hearing. Last March a bill was introduced in the U.S. Senate to try to remedy this situation, but it did not garner sufficient political support to be adopted.
For those of you interested in learning more about this subject, I urge you to look below the surface of the statistics that will be presented to you. Try to determine if the data you are reviewing is being presented to support a particular point of view or is being presented in an objective manner. If you think that you are only hearing one side, get access to the data being presented by someone on the other side of the argument. That has been the only way that I have found of reaching a more balanced view of this complex issue.
Meanwhile, in the coming year let’s hope that the shifting political winds in regard to marijuana facts will help the progress of U.S. Senate Bill 683 so that we can all emerge from this 80-year period of enforced ignorance.