By DAVE PURDY
Scholars acknowledge George Washington and Thomas Jefferson grew marijuana. President Obama admits he smoked it. George W. Bush and Bill Clinton did, too (well, kind of). Six percent of the U.S. population uses it daily. It’s cheap, has been cultivated since the third millennium B.C., and thrives in almost any soil. Yet, in the United States, it’s still an illegal substance.
All eyes will be on Washington, D.C., when sometime this spring, the first medical marijuana dispensary in our nation’s capital, will open, and authorities predict the Capital City Care Dispensary will be the most regulated in the nation.
The pharmacology of marijuana or cannabis includes tetrahyrocannabinol (THC) – the fun stuff – as well as cannabinoids — the good stuff — which has medicinal properties. Yet, there’s still a stigma associated with the plant, even though scientists throughout the world are eager to explore the therapeutic value of cannabinoids.
One company, Cannabis Science, is developing methods for using cannabis to treat Kaposi’s Sarcoma (KS), the No. 1 cancer around the world, especially in Africa. Experts fear KS is making a comeback because of HIV-related drug resistance. Cannabis Science is raising awareness of the promise of groundbreaking Cannabinoid-based treatment of cancer, including HIV-related cancers such as Kaposi’s Sarcoma, and other medical conditions.
Another company doing research is GW Pharmaceuticals, which is studying how cannabis can be turned into an oral anti-diabetic treatment. Scientists throughout the world today are also exploring using cannabis to treat multiple sclerosis and depression.
Dr. Bob Melamede, founder of Cannabis Science, a publicly traded company told the Blade, “We are now on the verge of proving scientifically what the medical cannabis community has known for decades, that cannabis could be one of our most important treatments for all age-related illnesses as well as for a subset of viral infections including HIV, KSHV and influenza.”
Here’s some interesting data: The CDC estimates there are approximately 1.7 million nosocomial (hospital-associated) infections each year, causing about 100,000 deaths. Automobile accidents, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation, numbered around 32,000 in 2010. Compare those data with the number of deaths from cannabis overdose: zero.
So why the stigma associated with cannabis – or with being gay or having HIV or living with mental health issues? Fear. The war on drugs is all about fear.
Eighteen states including the District of Columbia have legalized cannabis for use in patients suffering from glaucoma, nausea and vomiting related to HIV and cancer to stimulate the appetite. In November, voter referenda in Colorado and Washington State approved legalizing its use in general.
The result? It’s sometimes impossible, and always difficult, to rent property to use for medical marijuana dispensaries and controlled cultivation centers, even in the states where it is legal. Another problem is almost all banks and credit card companies refuse to open accounts for legitimate cannabis businesses.
On the positive side, several nations, including Canada, Austria and Spain, have legalized cannabis for medicinal use, while The Netherlands doesn’t even impose the medical-use-only restriction.
Yet, here in the United States federal law, which trumps state laws, claims “there is no such thing as ‘medical’ marijuana” and “has no currently accepted medical use” in the United States. President Obama has made clear that going after cannabis users is not a priority of his administration. However, the current federal law is still in place and trumps state laws.
The only way this will change is if Congress passes legislation allowing states to regulate.
Finally, here is the sad part of the cannabis story. The Food and Drug Admiration has not approved cannabis for any condition or disease in the United States. With dispensaries opening in Washington, DC we have a unique opportunity to obtain real science by creating a clinical trial network that will give us the important medical and scientific information about cannabis and move from dispensaries to biotech and pharmaceutical support, while saving lives and in the least extend the quality of life for millions.
Dave Purdy is founder and CEO of the World AIDS Institute. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.