Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Mule Days and Medical Marijuana: It's Time for a Lesson on Cannabis

By now, most people in this country are starting to have some kind of awareness that there have been some serious misspeaks when it comes to marijuana/cannabis/hemp/weed/pot, whatever you want to call it. However, with the way the media coverage goes, it is not surprising that some areas are not yet aware of the misspeaks. At this point, 20 states and Washington DC have legalized the medical use of marijuana. We are not talking about getting high. We are talking about doctor prescribed, cannabis based medications. It is typically prescribed for things like cancer, multiple sclerosis, chronic pain, arthritis, gastro-intestinal disorders, movement disorders, HIV/AIDS, and conditions related to aging (Americans for Safe Access, ASA) and dementia, such as Alzheimer’s. It is also long regarded as one of the best anti-nausea treatments in the world, including the nausea from invasive medical treatments such as with cancer. In addition, for some children, suffering from some forms of childhood epilepsy, nothing else seems to work. It is also effective in end of life palliative care. That is merely a start.

So what’s the deal? As informed as I pride myself in being when it comes to the War on Drugs, I didn’t know much about medical marijuana until very recently (Garson, 2013).

This story is about Mule Day 2013 in Winfield, Alabama. Or it was. My intent was to write a blistering editorial about how the Mule Day festival organizers kicked AMMJC, a patient advocacy group out of the festival. A patient advocacy group, no, it is not a typo. And yes they filled out the application in a timely manner, paid their fees, did their homework, setup properly, and did everything else they were supposed to do. And no they weren't misbehaving. It had something to do with pictures of a green leaf and some city ordnance that still hadn't been located by the time the AMMJC group had been unceremoniously ordered to leave. To make it all so much more interesting, the AMMJC had also invited a couple thousand some odd friends, family, neighbors and supporters from throughout the South to come out and support them and Mule Day as well. A fair number showed up, kind of got interesting when they started looking for the AMMJC booth though. 

The Alabama Medical Marijuana Coalition (AMMJC) is the major legislative advocacy group for patients in Alabama. They are working toward the legalization of medical marijuana/cannabis based (doctor prescribed) medications in the state.

This is not about getting high, this is about the fact that for thousands of years before marijuana prohibition, cannabis based medications were an important part of our pharmacopeia, as in a valued and trusted doctor prescribed medicine, and it is time to bring that doctor prescribed medical option back to our people.

Marijuana prohibition
Marijuana prohibition was a combined political/money grubbing maneuver by Harry J. Anslinger, who made his career enforcing alcohol prohibition, and thought marijuana prohibition would be a good replacement when it ended, and William Randolph Hearst, the media/newspaper magnate, who was also openly racist and thought that it would be financially beneficial if instead of making paper out of hemp, it was made out of timber, of which he owned much land and stood to make quite a fortune. Andrew W. Mellon and the DuPonts were in on it as well. Just about anything that could be made from hemp could also be made from petroleum, and they stood to make a whole lot of money from that (and you wonder why the environmentalists keep wringing their hands, much less what our soldiers have been really dying for). So, somewhere in the process of ensuring job security for Anslinger, coming up with a new form of prohibition, with new laws to enforce and more people to arrest (most especially Blacks and Mexicans, the KKK was lightweight in comparison to Hearst), creating a viable market for petroleum by taking hemp off the industrial map of the country, cannabis was also, pretty much coincidentally, made illegal (not much worry about those medical patients either).

The weed scam
Hearst helped pulled the scam off (and continued to implement) via a massive public relations campaign, which he was easily able to implement since he owned a large number of the major newspapers and magazines of the day. While much of the general public depended on his publications for news and information, he published a steady stream of what came to be known as reefer madness propaganda, with the sole intent of convincing the American people of the evils of marijuana and the people who used it. Never mind, that at the time, cannabis was one of the most commonly prescribed medications in the country (the fact that they were in the same family of plants and would also be made illegal under the new prohibition was somehow swept under the media rug along with the use of different words at different times and in different contexts).

Anyway, cannabis medications were very affordable, very effective at treating a number of ailments, and had fewer side effects than just about any other medication ever in the pharmacopeia of the world. Its use was so common at the time, chances are good that if you had ever been to the doctor and brought home a prescription, you very likely had at least one bottle of cannabis-based medication in your medicine cabinet. In addition to its other uses, it was a common prescription level painkiller, and in comparison to most of today’s counterparts, it was safe, non-addictive and had very few side effects.

So what happened? 
When they passed the new prohibition laws, marijuana, hemp and cannabis were all made illegal at the same time. Whereas they are all in the same plant family, and the words are frequently used interchangeably, different strains are used for different purposes. Until the law was already passed, most people did not have a clue that it was also going to affect the availably of certain prescription medications on which they relied.

Bad news for the medical community
The American Medical Association had a conniption fit. Even though it was already a well-known, proven and beneficial medication, many in the medical community felt that with additional research, they would learn that cannabis had even more uses and more benefits than was then known. For thousands of years, cannabis had been just about as close as it comes to being considered a miracle drug, and the consensus of the medical community was that the future would prove it even more beneficial than was already known. There is no doubt, its use was well regarded and well respected.

In response to the change in the laws, “In 1937, the U.S. passed the first federal law against cannabis, despite the objections of the American Medical Association (AMA). Dr. William C. Woodward, testifying on behalf of the AMA, told Congress that, "The American Medical Association knows of no evidence that marijuana is a dangerous drug" and warned that a prohibition "loses sight of the fact that future investigation may show that there are substantial medical uses for Cannabis." (Americans for Safe Access, ASA)

The damage done
Needless to say, from the prospective of medical care, this change in the law was a big problem for a lot of people, and it continues to be a problem to this day. In the meantime, in the ignominious tradition of the Hearst legacy, we have been inundated with generations of blatantly false and misleading media spin to convince us that what was once considered the miracle drug of the ages was actually an evil weed. In the process, seriously ill individuals have been denied access to doctor prescribed medications, and others, who were just as seriously ill, have been imprisoned because they dared to reach for the cure.

These laws have done major damage to communities, families and individuals across this country. There has been so much needless suffering. Countless numbers have lost their lives because effective treatments were deemed illegal, and not made available to them.

As active and involved I have been in so many issues, for so many years, until very recently, I flat didn’t know what was going on when it came to medical marijuana (Garson, 2013).

I too thought these medical marijuana folks were a bunch of stoners looking to have a legal high, and if they couldn’t get it any other way, they were going to go the medical route. Anybody who knows me is aware I am on the liberal side of things, but on this one, my liberal attitude really got in the way of me seeing the truth when it comes to the medical use of marijuana.

Whether we are liberal with good intentions or conservative with good intentions, I think people mostly have good intentions, but both sides of the aisle have been fed some serious misinformation when it comes to marijuana, most especially when it comes to its medical applications. On a certain level, that can be life or death serious.

Educating the public
Educating the public and bringing back access to doctor prescribed medical cannabis is what the Alabama Medical MarijuanaCoalition (AMMJC) is about. They frequently spend their weekends staffing booths at flea markets and festivals. They educate the public on medical marijuana, collect petition signatures, and they sell T-shirts and trinkets to help fund the efforts of the group. AMMJC is a non-profit patient advocacy group, whose members are professionals in communities across the state, working directly toward change in these laws. So what’s the big deal? Could be the folks at Mule Day didn’t want what they perceived as a bunch of long-haired hippie reprobates sitting around stoned, doing who knows what, with who knows who. And no telling what else. Talk about stereotypes.

When it comes to marijuana and the news, we have had such a constant, one-sided story, for so long, a whole lot of people don’t know up from down on this one. In no way to imply that the Mule Day  folks don't know up from down. I'm sure they do. But we get such a constant stream of arrest numbers, and reefer madness hype, and little mention of how many lives these laws are destroying, or how many of these media portrayed criminals are either seriously ill patients or have seriously ill family members who seriously need a cannabis based medicine. Marijuana prohibition laws have destroyed more lives than marijuana ever will. Despite the damage of marijuana prohibition, in the course of human history, marijuana itself has saved many more lives than these very recent laws have destroyed. So what is going on here? Where is up and where is down?

Why don’t we hear more about this? Things are changing, but still, there is so little coverage of the medical uses of marijuana, people don’t even know it is there. And if they have heard of it at all, likely as not, they think it is a joke some stoner is making because they really would rather be getting high. Although that was a big so what to me, it really was part of my own problem in not understating the bigger picture on this one. I am also pretty close to absolutely certain that the people at Mule Day  thought they were doing the right thing when they showed the door to what they considered those long haired hippies from AMMCJ.

Things sure look different when the truth starts coming out.
Dr. Sanja Gupta made some major news when he came out with a very public proclamation that he had got it wrong when it came to marijuana. He issued a very public apology because, in his writing, media work and medical reporting, as have so many others before him, he had played into the same media cog that Hearst started and that he too had helped to spread the mis-information. He is a surgeon among surgeons, one of the most respected medical professionals in this country, and he too had been mis-lead when it comes to cannabis and its medical applications. It takes some doing to get to the truth. When he realized that he too had been duped, and he too had believed the lies, he had a few things to say about it. He also sat out to set the record straight (Garson, 2013).

Dr. Gupta did a documentary in an attempt to start correcting some of that mis-information that we have all been fed for so long. Since then, there has been a Senate hearing on state’s rights when it comes to medical marijuana laws, there have also been other hearings on the sentencing and what these laws have done to our people (Garson, 2013).  

Changes are most definitely being made (Garson, 2013). Despite the fact, it is still illegal at the federal level, state after state has been reaffirming their state’s rights and passing legislation to make these medicines available to their citizens once more. When I say once more, I do mean once more. Records vary somewhat, but some say that marijuana/cannabis based medications have been in use for as long as 12,000 years. It is one of the 50 fundamental healing herbs in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).

There is no doubt that Big Pharma stepped in to fill that gap. As much as we all like to yell about them, on some things, they have truly done a good job. Many medical and pharmaceutical advances have been made in the last decades. However, on other things, medical science has reached a dead end. You can’t throw away thousands of years of best medical practices and make up for it in a day, or even a few generations. Marijuana/cannabis was one of the earliest cultivated herbs on the planet. For almost that many years, it was among the most frequently utilized medical herbs on the planet.

New studies, old ways
New studies and transcriptions of the Old Testament books have led etymologists to believe that “kaneh-bosm” was accidently translated to “calamus,” when it should have been “cannabis” (Bennett, 1996). That is still being debated. Others question whether it was used in some of the healing oils that Jesus used in his ministry. Not to take a thing away from his miracles, but he was undeniably a physician, a healer, and at times, he sent his apostles out with oils and preparations to heal as well. Because of its wide range of uses in healing, the time-frame, and some of the things it was used for, questions are now being asked as to whether what we now know as cannabis was perhaps in some of those anointing oil preparations as well (Chris Bennett cited in BBC,2003). If so, that would surely put a different spin on a whole lot of things.
With the perpetual lies we have been fed about marijuana in the last generations, it is very easy to dismiss that notion. However, for the thousands of years before marijuana prohibition made it illegal, marijuana/cannabis was one of the most effective and widely used medicines on the planet.

The War on Drugs is not just about the right to get high, or that we have the biggest prison population in the world, it is also about the fact that these laws have seriously influenced what is available by prescription in this country. It was not an accident or a fluke of nature that this so-called evil weed has for most of recorded history, been one of the most widely prescribed medications in the world. Many times over, marijuana/cannabis has been shown to have been one of the most all around beneficial, for more medical purposes, with less side effects than any other medication known to humankind.

Changes are being made
People are catching on to the truth. That is why, in state after state, the citizens are changing their laws. They have had enough. They are tired of watching their loved loves suffer while the cure is deemed illegal and just out of reach. Others watch helplessly as their loved ones die shackled to a prison bed for daring to have reached for the cure. Or, like Peter McWilliams, they die on the floor, choking in their own vomit, because they too are refused the medication that could have saved their life.

When we throw away the wisdom of the ages, we all lose. It has been a long time since the US had the best medical system in the world, and doing things like arbitrarily (it was all about the money) making one of the most all around beneficial medicines in the history of the world illegal to our people is just one of the things that is wrong.

People are working hard for change. The Alabama Medical Marijuana Coalition hits the road every chance they get. Most of the time, people are glad to see them. However, sometimes they run into situations like what happened at Mule Day. I am aware that words were exchanged. A whole lot of people really do think it is all about the high. Most people don’t honestly know the difference until a person in their own family has a health problem for which there seems no answer, and then, doctor after doctor, pill after pill, and the same story of hopelessness, nothing working, then they too hear a whisper, maybe cannabis will work. And sometimes it does. It’s not a guaranteed miracle. Like the base of so many other medications, it is simply an herb of the field, but it is also a serious and proven medicine, and sometimes it really does work.

All these things take on a completely different light when you realize there is a possible cure for you or your loved one, but the cure is illegal. What do you do when you realize that the real reason certain treatments and even cures are not available is not that we don’t have the medical know how. It is not even because of a lack of availability or difficult manufacturing processes. It is for no other reason than the greed of certain individuals that cannabis based medications were ever made illegal to our people. Too many people have already suffered and died to feed that greed. This is not something that good people in a good country will put up with for long. There is a growing number of people working for and demanding change on that one.

There have also been major migrations of families into areas where medical marijuana is legal, for children suffering from epilepsy, others with cancer and other diseases. Clearly, more studies are needed, but there is also no doubt that there are already way too many cases of healing for it to be coincidental.

This march to legalize medical marijuana in the states is not a march of the stoners. People are fighting for their lives and the lives of those they love. The Alabama Medical Marijuana Coalition (AAMJC) travels across the state to educate people on medical marijuana and work toward its legislation. Mostly they set up at flea markets and festivals. And, for the most part, they are welcomed.

This past weekend, they were asked to leave the Mule Day Festival. Run off is more like it. As if the weed were evil, as if it were all a joke, as if they were evil for suggesting there might be a cure in the green leaf. It is not about the high. It is about healing, about ensuring that the people we love and the doctors who care for them have the option of a cannabis-based medication, if it is deemed, by their doctor, to be needed—on a prescription basis.

Despite the affront and the implications when the festival organizers kicked out a patient advocacy group, I don’t think they had any intent to do wrong. The things we don’t know about these laws have in some ways hurt us all. Until the need arises, or it somehow affects us or one of our loved ones personally, most of us don’t have a clue as to the truth. Medical marijuana is not about the high. It’s about the cure.

Some of the patients:
  • Charlotte Figi --  suffers from Dravet Syndrome, a rare, severe form of intractable epilepsy. As with a certain number of childhood epilepsy patients, none of the medications were working. Her parents are very conservative, never in their lives the type who have ever touched pot, which made the choices even more difficult. As a last resort, when they realized their daughter would not be getting any better, they tried medical cannabis, doctor supervised prescription and treatment. It worked. Charlotte is doing well.
  • AMMJC Testimonials 
  • Patient Testimonials on the Efficacy of MedicalCannabis: Documented by the Cannabis Patient
  • Peter McWilliams -- was one of the early medical marijuana patients and activists. A cancer patient, marijuana was prescribed for the nausea caused by his other medications. Although the treatment was effective, and he lived in a state where it was legal, he was arrested and labeled a drug lord kingpin for its use. He was financially ruined, and died, choking on his own vomit, just days after a court order that took his cannabis medication away.Peter McWilliams is regarded as a martyr to the struggle to legalize medical cannabis.  
  • Richard Flor: Remembering a Victim of the War on Medical Marijuana -- a seriously ill patient who died in custody.
Also see:
  • Patients in the Crossfire: Casualties in the War on Medical Marijuana, by Americans for Safe Access 
  • Patients out of Time: With a founding mission of educating health care professionals and the public about therapeutic cannabis, the goal of the group is to make therapeutic cannabis available for all patients.
This article was updated with minor changes in the verbiage October 2, 2013 

Copyright 2013 Regina Garson


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