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This History of Pot

As a prison physician I always thought that the history of marijuana was fascinating. It’s use in religion and medicine dates back thousands of years, but it’s use as a medicinal product in the United States only dates back to the mid 1800s. It got a bad reputation after the formation of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics in 1930, headed by Harry J. Anslinger who claimed cannabis caused people to commit violent crimes and act irrationally and overly sexual. He also promoted propaganda films to support his point of view. The Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 made possession or transfer of marihuana illegal throughout the US under federal law, excluding medical and industrial uses. The Narcotics Control Act of 1956 made a first time cannabis possession offense a minimum of two to ten years with a fine up to $20,000. In 1973 the Drug Enforcement Agency(DEA) was formed and in 1975 the Supreme Court ruled that it was ‘not cruel or unusual for Ohio to sentence someone to 20 years for having or selling cannabis.’ How things have changed, at least at the state level. Colorado and Washington legalized the sale and possession of cannabis for recreational use in 2012, followed by Alaska and Oregon in 2014, and California, Nevada, Maine, and Massachusetts in 2016. January 1, 2018 will mark the day when someone can go into a dispensary in California and purchase marijuana for recreational use.

California has always been a haven for illegal pot growers and according to the article below there’s an estimated 1,000 illegal farms controlled by organized crime that operate on public property. It will be interesting to see who gets the permits since there are three different agencies issuing them. According to cannabis financial analysis firm ,GreenWave Advisors, the existing marijuana black market is worth $13.5 billion, while the legal market could be worth $5.1 billion in 2018. The size of California has some people thinking that it will change the pot industry in this country, if not worldwide. Industry experts predict that venture capitalists will commoditize the production of cannabis and turn it into a cash crop, which will please the state as it is looking for tax revenue. One always has to follow the money to understand why things change. What has happened in the medical world in relationship to marijuana? As a physician I had very little medical instruction in illegal drugs except for the medical problems they caused.

With marijuana we were told it had some effect on glaucoma and seemed to help with nausea after chemotherapy, but there were better pharmaceutical drugs to use and no one had studied the long term medical side effects. I was also told the National Institute of Health, (NIH) tended to sponsor grants studying the negative side effects of the drug vs. the positive ones for political reasons. That would not surprise me, but that has changed and since 2000 their have been more studies and well-designed randomized clinical trials to understand cannabis. According to a continuing medical education course I took thru NetCE the published research supports that medical marijuana can alleviate some pain, spasticity, nausea and vomiting, weight loss and may help reduce the amount of opioid used to reduce pain if it is used with cannabis. Lifetime addiction is 1.5% to 9% in recreational users and is unknown in medical users. It should not be used in someone younger than 18, pregnant or breastfeeding, or someone with a family history or personal history of psychosis.

The reason cannabis affects us is because the body has cannabinoid receptors. The body makes it’s own chemicals like cannabis that sit in those receptors and affect the endogenous cannabinoid system (ECS). The core functions of that system are described as -relax,eat,sleep,forget and protect. I have always told the inmates that the body is smarter at taking care of itself then any tinkering we are doing now. Sometimes I must admit that I worry that we don’t give the body, mind and spirit time to heal. Our culture is oriented to the quick fix and the people who are savvy at selling it to us for profit are not interested in what we can do on our own.

If you do opt out to use marijuana for medicinal or recreational use, you should know that legal medicinal cannabis purchased in the US lacks government-controlled standardization of cultivation, potency and purity. Medicinal marijuana in Canada and the Netherlands has exceptional quality, purity and consistency which are in line with pharmaceutical-level standards. Both countries use a product that is grown by a single contractor, licensed by the government, under strict, controlled and documented conditions. It is also grown, packaged, and distributed via a centralized supply chain. Those countries appear to value quality and consistency over business profits.

Some people worry about more people using and becoming dependent on the drug. Others worry about individuals under the influence when they are behind the wheel. Some people worry about the water and pesticides that will be needed for this new ‘cash crop.’ I will watch, wait and monitor what happens over time and maybe next year will have something new to say about the legalization of pot.

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