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When Science Goes To Pot By Larry Gabriel / Metro Times

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By Larry Gabriel Metro times Published Jan. 12th 2011




Poring Over the Tens of Thousands of Scientific Papers on Pot


Welcome to the world of science. I didn't do well in high school science and have pretty much avoided addressing scientific subjects formally until now. That's because I've been delving into the science of marijuana to try to figure out some of the hows and whys of medical marijuana's workings. There are some 20,000 published scientific papers analyzing marijuana and its parts. So don't let anybody tell you there is too little known about marijuana to make a call regarding its usefulness.


Most of those papers are beyond my understanding, and making sense of those I could understand came with the help of a medical dictionary. But at least I'm trying. Most public policy and attitudes about the plant have been formed without the help of science. In fact, when President Richard Nixon ramped up the drug war in the early 1970s, it was in direct contradiction of the information and recommendations of his own marijuana task force.


There are probably lots of things we believe wthout a scientific basis, but maybe we're at a point where more clearheaded inquiry is possible. So here we go. First of all, delta-9-tetrahydrocannibinol, or THC as we commonly call it, is not the only active substance in marijuana. We know about it mostly because it's what gets you high. However it is not the only component that has medicinal value.


In my last column on medical marijuana, I posed questions about what in marijuana gives you the munchies, what relieves spasm and what causes memory loss -- not to mention numerous other effects such as pain reduction and nausea relief. I can't give you definitive answers to all of that, but here is an explanation of how our bodies interact with marijuana.


The first thing we need to get a grip on is the cannabinoid system in the human body. OK, that word sounds like cannabis ( the scientific name for marijuana ), but that is only because the system was discovered during the 1990s during research on how marijuana affects the brain. Apparently, most multicellular organisms have a cannabinoid system and cannabinoid receptors that process the endocannabinoids ( naturally occurring cannabinoids ) that they produce. The system plays a role in regulating things like body temperature, blood pressure, hunger, etc.


Or as is formally stated by Neil Goodman, Ph.D., in "An Overview of the Endogenous Cannabinoid System," research suggests "that the endocannabinoids and their receptors constitute a widespread modulatory system that fine-tunes bodily responses to a number of stimuli."


"It's a regulatory system for things like appetite, circulation, pain response and immune response," says Paul Armentano, deputy director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws and expert witness on marijuana science. "Cannabinoids seem to regulate or maintain all of these different functions. ... When mice are bred not to have these receptors, a couple of very shocking studies show they die almost immediately. They suffer from failure to thrive and have no appetite at birth. If you force them to stay alive, they die of old age long before they become old. If this system doesn't work right, people don't survive."


A functioning cannabinoid system is essential for good health. Cannabinoids are found around injuries stabilizing nerve cells and promoting anti-inflammatory responses. There are cannabinoids in mothers' milk that give babies the munchies so that they learn how to eat.




Of up to 100 cannabinoids, a handful are known to show promise as therapeutic agents. The second most widely known cannabinoids is cannabidiol, or CBD, the most exciting cannabinoid for medical science. There are indications it's helpful for inflammation, nerve pain in disorders such as multiple sclerosis and Crohn's disease; it's an antispasmodic, anticancer, antidiabetic and neuroprotective substance.


"What makes marijuana so interesting is that we can explain why we get the results that we get," says Armentano. "We have this strain that is high in CBD. We know this person has Crohn's disease. We know that CBD interacts with receptors in the gastrointestinal tract and it reduces inflammation."


Most other known cannabinoids have a variety of healing properties that support those of THC and CBD. In fact, natural marijuana as a whole seems to work better than any of its isolated components. Cannabinoids as a group have a synergistic effect that produces better outcomes and fewer side effects. And those effects are both palliative ( relieving symptoms ) and curative ( modifying the disease itself ).


For instance, laboratory testing has indicated CBD slows down the proliferation of certain cancers, lowers the incidence of diabetes, and slows the development of multiple sclerosis. Also, some traditional drugs seem to work better when used in tandem with marijuana's cannabinoids and, over time, some patients have less need to take their traditional drugs.


Pharmaceutical companies have taken note of this and, mostly outside the United States, many drugs using marijuana are in the pipeline. In the United States, it is almost impossible for a pharmaceutical company to even experiment with drugs using any naturally occurring part of marijuana because it's listed as a Schedule 1 drug. There are synthetic cannabinoids such as dronabinol ( marinol ) and WIN 55,212-2 available in the United States. However, a British company, GW Pharmaceuticals, has developed an oral spray, Sativex, which employs natural parts of marijuana and treats MS. It is available in several other countries, including Canada.


In the past, most marijuana breeding has been to increase the THC level. Now people are thinking about breeding the plant for higher CBD or other cannabinoid levels. Also, we're learning about cannabinoids in other plants, such as echinacea, that hold some promise for future pharmacological developments. More is not necessarily better. Some indications show that there is an optimum level of cannabinoids to affect diseases -- too little or too much renders it ineffective. The good thing is that no one has ever died from a marijuana overdose. The same thing cannot be said of many other drugs.


However, one thing prevalent in anecdotal accounts of medical marijuana use is not playing out under scientific analysis. Patients have reported getting different euphoric effects from cannabis sativa and cannabis indica strains. Science finds no appreciable difference in the cannabinoids in those plants.


I read several papers regarding medical marijuana for this column. Two notable reviews are "Non-psychotropic plant cannabinoids: new therapeutic opportunities from an ancient herb" ( tinyurl.com/46h6o25 ) and "The Endocannabinoid System as an Emerging Target of Pharmacotherapy" ( tinyurl.com/4w5ew72 ). Norml.org also has good information. If you're curious, these are places to start.




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Guest 1TokeOverLine

But isn't it of utmost significance that research on plant material has been banned since when, the 70's? There should be hundreds of thousands of human studies with actual Cannabis sativa.


"Marijuana" has been banned since 1906. The official federal ban began in 1937 I believe.


"The legal history of cannabis in the United States relates to the lawfulness of marijuana use for medical or recreational purposes in the United States. Prohibitions of cannabis sativa as a drug arose in many states from 1906 and onward. By the mid-1930s, cannabis, or marijuana, as a drug was regulated in every state by laws instituted through the Uniform State Narcotic Drug Act.[1]" - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Legal_history_of_cannabis_in_the_United_States


"For the first 162 years of America's existence, marijuana was totally legal and hemp was a common crop. But during the 1930s, the U.S. government and the media began spreading outrageous lies about marijuana, which led to its prohibition. Some headlines made about marijuana in the 1930s were: "Marijuana: The assassin of youth." "Marijuana: The devil's weed with roots in hell." "Marijuana makes fiends of boys in 30 days." "If the hideous monster Frankenstein came face to face with the monster marijuana, he would drop dead of fright." In 1936, the liquor industry funded the infamous movie titled Reefer Madness. This movie depicts a man going insane from smoking marijuana, and then killing his entire family with an ax. This campaign of lies, as well as other evidence, have led many to believe there may have been a hidden agenda behind Marijuana Prohibition.


Shortly before marijuana was banned by The Marijuana Tax Act of 1937, new technologies were developed that made hemp a potential competitor with the newly-founded synthetic fiber and plastics industries. Hemp's potential for producing paper also posed a threat to the timber industry (see New Billion-Dollar Crop). Evidence suggests that commercial interests having much to lose from hemp competition helped propagate reefer madness hysteria, and used their influence to lobby for Marijuana Prohibition. It is not known for certain if special interests conspired to destroy the hemp industry via Marijuana Prohibition, but enough evidence exists to raise the possibility.


After Alcohol Prohibition ended in 1933, funding for the Federal Bureau of Narcotics (now the Drug Enforcement Administration) was reduced. The FBN's own director, Harry J. Anslinger, then became a leading advocate of Marijuana Prohibition. In 1937 Anslinger testified before Congress in favor of Marijuana Prohibition by saying: "Marijuana is the most violence causing drug in the history of mankind." "Most marijuana smokers are Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos and entertainers. Their Satanic music, jazz and swing, result from marijuana usage. This marijuana causes white women to seek sexual relations with Negroes." Marijuana Prohibition is founded on lies and rooted in racism, prejudice, and ignorance. Just as politicians believed Harry J. Anslinger to be a marijuana expert in 1937, many people still believe law enforcement officials are marijuana experts. In reality, law enforcement officials have no expert knowledge of marijuana's medical or health effects, but they do represent an industry that receives billions of tax dollars to enforce Marijuana Prohibition.


Before the government began promoting reefer madness hysteria during the 1930s, the word marijuana was a Mexican word that was totally absent from the American vocabulary. In the 1930s, Americans knew that hemp was a common, useful, and harmless crop. It is extremely unlikely anyone would have believed hemp was dangerous, or would have believed stories of hemp madness. Thus, the words marijuana and reefer were substituted for the word hemp in order to frighten the public into supporting Hemp Prohibition. Very few people realized that marijuana and hemp came from the same plant species; thus, virtually nobody knew that Marijuana Prohibition would destroy the hemp industry.


Bolstering the theory that marijuana was banned to destroy the hemp industry, two articles were written on the eve of Marijuana Prohibition that claim hemp was on the verge of becoming a super crop. These articles appeared in two well-respected magazines that are still published today. The articles are:


Flax and Hemp (Mechanical Engineering, Feb. 1937)

New Billion-Dollar Crop (Popular Mechanics, Feb. 1938)


This was the first time that billion dollar was used to describe the value of a crop. These articles praise the usefulness and potential of hemp by stating "hemp can be used to produce more than 25,000 products" and "hemp will prove, for both farmer and public, the most profitable and desirable crop that can be grown." Marijuana Prohibition took effect within one year after both these articles were written." - http://www.thc-ministry.net/untoldstory/hemp_5.html



Edited by 1TokeOverLine
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"Marijuana" has been banned since 1906. The official federal ban began in 1937 I believe.




I mean specifically banned from research.


However, in 1976, just as multi-disciplined marijuana research should have been going into its second, third, and fourth generation studies (see Therapeutic Potential of Marijuana and NORML federal files), a "surprise" United States government policy again forbade all promising federal research into marijuana's therapeutic effects. This time, the research ban was accomplished when American pharmaceutical companies successfully petitioned the federal government to be allowed to finance and judge 100% of the research. The previous ten years of research had indicated a tremendous promise for the therapeutic uses of natural cannabis, and this potential was quietly turned over to corporate hands - not for the benefit of the public, but to suppress the medical information. This plan, the drug manufacturers petitioned, would allow our private drug companies time to come up with patentable synthetics of the cannabis molecules at no cost to the federal government, and a promise of "no highs." In 1976, the Ford Administration, NIDA and the DEA said in effect, no American independent (read: university) research or federal health program would be allowed to again investigate natural cannabis derivatives for medicine. This agreement was made without any safeguards guaranteeing integrity on the part of the pharmaceutical companies; they were allowed to regulate themselves. Private pharmaceutical corporations were allowed to do some "no high" research, but it would be only Delta-9 THC research, not any of the 400 other potentially therapeutic isomers in cannabis. Why did the drug companies conspire to take over marijuana research? Because U.S. government research (1966-76) had indicated or confirmed through hundreds of studies that even "natural" crude cannabis was the "best and safest medicine of choice" for many serious health problems.
Edited by MightyMightyMezz
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