lunes, 20 de abril de 2015

Have we learned nothing from the excesses of alcohol and tobacco?

The hard lessons of legal marijuana

by Gregory K Pike

In recent years, several US states have legalised marijuana for recreational purposes. This has happened after many years of legal access to marijuana as medicine in those same states.

It has been an unsurprising transition when viewed from at least one perspective, even though from another it is entirely odd.

The reason the transition was anticipated is because changing the image of cannabis by promoting it as medicine is powerful. There doesn’t need to be much nuance in the idea that medicines are good and abstracted from that nasty business of “illicit drugs”. The latter wreck lives whereas the former heal people.

The image change gets into the collective consciousness and people start to think differently, gradually allowing a medical paradigm to overtake even strong contrary evidence of harm. Not everyone has the time to delve deeply, so a cursory overarching framework within which to place the question must suffice for many. Moreover, it is not only those who might actually use marijuana who influence that perception. Moderates, who are unlikely to ever use themselves, are nevertheless an essential part of public opinion and its voice.

This transitional strategy was something recognised years ago by one of the wealthiest supporters of drug legalisation movements worldwide, billionaire financier George Soros. When approached for funding he made it clear he would first support “winnable issues” like medical marijuana. Once they were won the ground would be laid for the main game. Along with others, he heavily bankrolled medical marijuana initiatives in the 90s, and now the fruit of that strategy is ripening.

It always seemed curious that organisations like NORML (National Organisation for the Reform of Marijuana Laws – the acronym says it all), would suddenly become interested in the treatment of MS, glaucoma, spasticity and neuropathic pain. They are not a patient-advocacy group. From the very beginning NORML were only ever interested in legalising marijuana for recreational purposes. Medical marijuana was their beachhead, and at the time all they had to do was stay on message. By focusing on potential medical uses for marijuana, a distorted and simplistic story was hammered home by media savvy operators. Now 23 US states have medical cannabis and a further three are pending.

How strange to promote smoked cannabis as medicine when much of the research on potential therapeutic uses of its active ingredients was still being done, or at best showed only a modest effect. That’s not how modern medical research proceeds for any other potential medicine, so why should it be different for cannabis? In fact several pharmaceutical preparations are readily available, so smoking is unnecessary. Smoking marijuana as medicine is a bit like revisiting opium eating despite pharmaceutical morphine and codeine. That’s 18th century medicine, not 21st.


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