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Discovering and addressing marijuana’s benefits and harms: Four perspectives

Dec 10, 2009 Discovering and addressing marijuana’s benefits and harms: Four perspectives

Image from public domain.

Recently, I spoke about marijuana’s safety and marijuana laws with a forensic chemist who typically testifies for the criminal defense side. He believes very strongly in keeping marijuana illegal — even for medicinal use — and that its benefits are far outweighed by its risks and harms.

I have known and respected this chemist for too many year to just ignore what he says, even though he has not swayed my strong belief in the importance of legalizing marijuana, and that the world would be a better place if all alcohol drinking were replaced by marijuana consumption.

Here, briefly, are four people’s perspectives on discovering and addressing marijuana’s benefits and harms:

The above-referenced chemist talked of the presence of over 150 chemicals in marijuana, and spoke of marijuana’s harms being like shooting a shotgun, having a minority of the pellets being beneficial — not being sure which of those pellets are beneicial — and having a substantial number of the pellets dangerous. He analogized to asbestos, which was used for many years before anyone found any harm from asbestos.

– He says marijuana includes dangerous glycosides, which I have not found sufficient information on — in relation to marijuana — through a google search.

Fellow martial arts practitioner and massage therapist Matt Stampe authorized me to share his following perspectives that he has recently emailed to me, about the balancing approach he takes with marijuana use:

– "[M]y Chinese doctor used to grow her own herbs and they really were helpful. I dont see why marijuana which is ‘yin’ energy could not be included with other powerful herbs."

– "As a licensed massage therapist- I have mixed views on the legalization of marijuana. First it is still a toxin to the lungs, second it affect QI ‘chi’ flow in the body, and can damage the ‘Shen’ or Mind and ‘Jing’ or essence of reproduction. Marijuana does pose a threat to our society in that is can make people dumb, create accidents, and make bad decisions. However I do stand for its healing benefits and some of the results for AIDS, Cancer, and other uses that help the individual and economy."

Therefore, on balance, Matt supports having marijuana lawfully available at least for health purposes.

The late pharmaceutical and marijuana expert John P. Morgan, M.D., comes closest to my view. First, I believe marijuana is comparatively safe, in reference to alcohol and other recreational drugs — and its potential benefits are enormous. Moreover, I believe that the buyer and user must take personal responsibility for choosing to use drugs.

In this YouTube video posted by the Drug Policy Alliance/Lindesmith Center, Dr. Morgan talks about marijuana’s low level of harmfulness in relation to other drugs. As to drivers under the influence of marijuana, he believes they often slow down. Even if marijuana turned out to be very harmful, which he discounts, he would find that to be all the more a good reason to have marijuana — along with all other drugs — legalized, regulated, and better controlled through the market place, and removed from the dangers of the current illicit drug market.

Harvard emeritus medical professor Lester Grinspoon  — who started studying marijuana in the 1960’s expecting to prove marijuana’s harm but then finding the opposite to dominate — estimates that at least $200 million is needed for studies to get a drug approved by the FDA. Absent Bill Gates or George Soros coming to the plate to fund such a study, nobody is going to pay for such a study. Marijuana is unpatented, so pharmaceutical companies will have no interest in paying for getting FDA approval of marijuana. 

With the FDA approval process too expensive for marijuana, Dr. Grinspoon points to persuasive anecdotal evidence of marijuana’s strong benefits and low risks as medicine.  Jon Katz

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