I believe that eventually the future of medical marijuana will depend on how strong a case we build in its support. When I say "strong case", I mean a body of scientific arguments that is well capable of proving the substance's therapeutic benefits on the one hand, and refuting the opponents' fear tactics on the other. It is, admittedly, much easier to accomplish the first task than the second. Only very recently a study completed with all the rigors of scientific inquiry has determined that medical marijuana is effective for otherwise intractable muscle spasms of multiple sclerosis. There are dozens of other studies, even if not performed according to the most strenuous protocols that show marijuana's beneficial effects in an ever-widening range of medicinal applications.
Unfortunately, it is my conclusion that the orthodox addiction medicine establishment is less than forthcoming in helping to overcome the stigma and unwarranted fears standing in the way of wider acceptance of medical marijuana. It is, for example, a fairly significant fact that marijuana use has never, ever been associated with a lethal overdose, and yet this truth is very rarely talked about, or brought up by the addiction medicine establishment. As opposed to opiate receptors in the brain which are abundantly present in the brain stem near the respiratory center, the cannabinoid receptors are notably scarce in close proximity to brain centers involved in vital functions of the body, such as respiration and circulation of blood. It is as if the safety mechanism is somehow "built-in" the human organism with regard to cannabis use. Sleep will supervene well before the toxic effects (if any) can manifest themselves. Another well-known fact in addiction medicine is that marijuana use lacks what is known as "physical withdrawal syndrome", a hallmark of physical dependence, so common in opiate (heroin, Oxycontin), or benzodiazepine (Valium and Xanax), or alcohol use. The orthodox addiction medicine establishment is also quite silent regarding low addiction liability of marijuana, although this is also something that the general public can understand without too much difficulty. Let me make an example. Alcohol, the most common recreational drug, has an addiction liability of about 10%. What this means is that one out of 10 people exposed to alcohol will develop some kind of "problem drinking", a spectrum of disorders ranging from heavy social drinking to full-blown alcoholism. By contrast, marijuana's addiction liability is only 3%. I would venture to say that this addiction liability compares very favorably with that of opiates, commonly used as prescription pain-killers, which is between 18 and 21%. Finally, there is a common fear, persistently cultivated by the opponents of medical marijuana, and that is the so-called "gateway drug" theory according to which marijuana use leads to the use of hard drugs, such as heroin, cocaine, and even LSD(?!) Let me just point out that the "gateway drug" theory is by now completely discredited by the science of addiction medicine as there are innumerable substances, including caffeine and sugar, that are capable of "psychoactive" effects and, therefore, can function as "gateway". And then there are "behavioral" addictions such as compulsive gambling, internet, video-games, hoarding, sex and so forth, that have nothing to do with "gateway" drugs.
I worked in drug addiction clinics of Philadelphia for years, and I have seen plenty of cases of severe physical dependence on all kinds of pain-killers as well as "nerve" and "sleeping" pills. The dependence that many patients develop is so severe as to require medical detoxification (in case of benzodiazepines) or chronic methadone maintenance (in case of opiates). Just recently CNN reported that thousands of our veterans are dependent on narcotics and/or "antidepressants". None of these medications is fully safe, none of them. In fact, many antidepressants have potential side effects of "suicidal thoughts or actions". Medical marijuana has been shown to be helpful in anxiety and PTSD (among its numerous other medicinal qualities), and this is why the Canadian Government even pays for medical marijuana for their veterans. The only rare (and very questionable) cases of pure "marijuana addiction" were those "referred" by the parole and probation departments of the State after failing a drug test. Not exactly the best way to spend our taxpayer money, if you ask me.
What are the reasons for this less than honest and somewhat disingenuous approach to the issue of medical marijuana on the part of the orthodox addiction medicine establishment? The addiction medicine hierarchy is highly political. Even the hard-core scientific facts like those mentioned in this article have to be measured and judged by people having little to do with science, but a lot to do with politics. This includes the DEA, the State, the Office of Substance Abuse Treatment, the Insurance companies like CBH in Philadelphia and so forth. For as long as the official position of these very powerful entities is against the medical marijuana, no amount of scientific reasoning will suffice while the writings such as this one would be considered "arch-heresy". Some of the people I personally know in addiction medicine clinics of Philadelphia may well realize that the future will prove me right, but the Institutions they represent need the State registration, State Certification and, especially, State financing right now and cannot afford to make their decisions based on judgments that are not the official position of the "powers that be".
A compelling argument can be made in support of medical marijuana from the point of view of Holistic Theology. As a Doctor of Divinity in Holistic Theology I would like to make this argument. I happen to believe that cannabis is a potent pro-evolutionary substance. Cannabis use increases appetite, induces rest, suppresses violent behavior and enhances the sexual experience. All of these actions are directed towards the survival of the species (as opposed to cocaine, for example, which suppresses the appetite, promotes violence and prevents restful sleep). It is hardly conceivable from the theological point of view that the Essential Being would make an error of this magnitude, that is to create something like marijuana plant that is pro-evolutionary, quite safe in terms of overdose, and yet so "bad for you" that it must be kept illegal and destroyed on sight. This is the theological point that should bring to our side such prominent spiritual teachers as Dr. Deepak Chopra and Dr. Eckhart Tolle, among many others.
To conclude, I would also like to expose the Republican leadership's hypocrisy when it comes to medical marijuana. Those people love to talk about States' Rights, and about how the Obama Administration "violates" those "rights". But all this bluster is only about the subjects that the Republican leadership approves of, such as the opposition to the new Health Care Reform Law that the President and Democratic leadership worked so hard to enact. These same people immediately forget about "States' Rights" when the discussion is about something they don't approve of, like medical marijuana. The States suddenly lose all their "rights" in those peoples' opinion when it comes to the RIGHTS of sick people who use medical marijuana to benefit their health problems. This kind of double-talk must be exposed again and again, so that people see this for themselves and know how to separate fact from fiction.