March 15, 2007
Reefer madness, revisited
Federal appellate judges here ruled Wednesday that a terminally ill woman using marijuana was not immune to federal prosecution simply because of her condition, and in a separate case a federal judge dismissed most of the charges against a prominent advocate for the medicinal use of the drug.
The woman, Angel McClary Raich, says she uses marijuana on doctors’ recommendation to treat an inoperable brain tumor and a battery of other serious ailments. Ms. Raich, 41, asserts that the drug effectively keeps her alive, by stimulating appetite and relieving pain, in a way that prescription drugs do not.
She wept when she heard the decision.
“It’s not every day in this country that someone’s right to life is taken from them,” said Ms. Raich, appearing frail during a news conference in Oakland, where she lives. “Today you are looking at someone who really is walking dead.”
In 2002, she and three other plaintiffs sued the government, seeking relief from federal laws outlawing marijuana. The case made its way to the Supreme Court, and in 2005, the court ruled against Ms. Raich, finding that the federal government had the authority to prohibit and prosecute the possession and use of marijuana for medical purposes. But the justices left elements of Ms. Raich’s case to a lower court to consider.
On Wednesday, a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit found that while they sympathized with Ms. Raich’s plight and had seen “uncontroverted evidence” that she needed marijuana to survive, she lacked the legal grounds to exempt herself from federal law.
The court “recognizes the use of marijuana for medical purposes is gaining traction,” the decision read. “But that legal recognition has not yet reached the point where a conclusion can be drawn that the right to use medical marijuana is ‘fundamental.’”
And yet the courts routinely rule that the right to life is exactly that. How odd.
Robert Raich, Ms. Raich’s husband and lawyer, said she might appeal the decision to the full Ninth Circuit.
October 6, 2006
Marijuana and Alzheimer’s
The FDA would like you to forget this story:
New research shows that the active ingredient in marijuana may prevent the progression of the disease by preserving levels of an important neuro-
transmitter that allows the brain to function.
Researchers at the Scripps Research Institute in Cali-
fornia found that marijuana’s active ingredient, delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, can prevent the neurotransmitter acetylcholine from breaking down more effectively than commercially marketed drugs.
THC is also more effective at blocking clumps of protein that can inhibit memory and cognition in Alzheimer’s patients, the researchers reported in the journal Molecular Pharmaceutics.
The researchers said their discovery could lead to more effective drug treatment for Alzheimer’s, the leading cause of dementia among the elderly.
Unfortunately it won’t treat the collective dementia at the FDA, which has done all it can to impede research on medical marijuana—and which in April stated that “no sound scientific studies” supported the medical use of marijuana. This contradicted an authoritative 1999 study by the National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine—which found that marijuana was “moderately well suited” for treating some medical conditions—and prompted ridicule from (among others) The Economist:
[T]he FDA statement is odd [in] that it seems to lack common sense. Cannabis has been used as a medicinal plant for millennia. In fact, the American government actually supplied cannabis as a medicine for some time, before the scheme was shut down in the early 1990s. Today, cannabis is used all over the world, despite its illegality, to relieve pain and anxiety, to aid sleep, and to prevent seizures and muscle spasms. For example, two of its long-advocated benefits are that it suppresses vomiting and enhances appetite—qualities that AIDS patients and those on anti-cancer chemotherapy find useful. So useful, in fact, that the FDA has licensed a drug called Marinol, a synthetic version of one of the active ingredients of marijuana—delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
The Economist also noted that more scientific research would of course reduce the need for herbal remedies:
Once available, a well-formulated and scientifically tested drug should knock a herbal medicine into a cocked hat. No one would argue for chewing willow bark when aspirin is available. But, in the meantime, there is unmet medical need that, as the IOM report pointed out, could easily and cheaply be met—if the American government cared more about suffering and less about posturing.
September 2, 2006
George and the dragon
The Bush administration, your friendly
local global drug pusher:
Afghanistan’s world-leading opium cultivation rose a “staggering” 60 percent this year, the U.N. anti-drugs chief announced Saturday in urging the government to crack down on big traffickers and remove corrupt officials and police.
The record crop yielded 6,100 tons of opium, or enough to make 610 tons of heroin — outstripping the demand of the world’s heroin users by a third, according to U.N. figures.
Officials warned that the illicit trade is undermining the Afghan government, which is under attack by Islamic militants that a U.S.-led offensive helped drive from power in late 2001 for harboring Osama
bin Laden and al-Qaida bases.
… With the economy struggling, there are not enough jobs and many Afghans say they have to grow opium poppies to feed their families. The trade accounts for at least 35 percent of Afghanistan’s economy, financing warlords and insurgents.
… The top U.S. narcotics official here said the opium trade is a threat to the country’s fledgling democracy.
“This country could be taken down by this whole drugs problem,” Doug Wankel told reporters. “We have seen what can come from Afghanistan, if you go back to 9/11. Obviously the U.S. does not want to see that again.”
Even though it helped cause the problem in the first place.
The bulk of the opium increase was in lawless Helmand province, where cultivation rose 162 percent and accounted for 42 percent of the Afghan crop. The province has been wracked by the surge in attacks by Taliban-led militants that has produced the worst fighting in five years.
Opium-growing increased despite the injection of hundreds of millions of dollars in foreign aid to fight the drug over the past two years. [Antonio Maria Costa, chief of the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime,] criticized the international effort and said foreign aid was “plagued by huge overhead costs” in its administration.
… “It’s going to take possibly 20 years to get rid of the problem,” he said, citing the experience of former opium producers like Thailand, Turkey and Pakistan.
And let’s not forget one other little side-effect of Bush’s Afghanistan adventure:
A Western counternarcotics official […] said the Taliban — which managed to nearly eradicate Afghanistan’s poppy crop in 2001, just before their ouster for giving refuge to Osama bin Laden — now profit from the trade.
Next, a makeover for Iran.
August 28, 2006
Rolling their religion
This may be tough to defend in court, given the religious right’s obvious ability to hallucinate without drugs. Plus 172 pounds of pot is one hell of a sacrament:
A couple from Pima, Ariz. arrested in a car that contained 172 pounds of marijuana say the drug is a sacrament in their religion. The U.S. attorney’s office contends they’re trying to use religion as a cover for a drug organization.
Danuel and Mary Quaintance staked their religious freedom claim in federal court here this week in a three-day hearing in connection with their February arrest in Lordsburg on drug charges, the Albuquerque Journal reported.
… Danuel Quaintance’s attorney, Marc Robert, portrays him as “a spiritual man who has followed his religious beliefs and prac-
tices at great personal risk.”
… The Quaintances contend they have a right to marijuana as the central focus of the Church of Cognizance, founded by Danuel Quaintance in 1991 and registered as a religious organization in Arizona in 1994.
The couple say the church, which has about 130 adherents nationwide, functions largely through “individual orthodox member monasteries.”
They cited a February ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in a case involving a small Santa Fe-based church to bolster their arguments. In that case, the court ruled that O Centro Espirita Beneficiente Uniao do Vegetal may use a hallucinogenic tea as part of a four-hour ritual intended to connect with God. Hoasca tea, which contains an illegal drug known as DMT, is considered sacred to the Brazilian-based religion.
Danuel Quaintance testified the Church of Cognizance is based on his research and interpretation of religious texts and is a form of neo-Zoroastrianism, an ancient religion that holds as sacred a drink made from a mountain plant called haoma.
In the teachings of Zoroaster, the plant, the drink and the god are the same. The Quaintances believe cannabis, hemp or marijuana is haoma.
None of which makes any less sense than this.
July 6, 2006
Nature magazine—which apparently is now the media division of the DEA—wants to show you fear in a handful* of rats:
Neuroscientists have found that rats are more likely to get hooked on heroin if they have previously been given cannabis. The studies suggest a biological mechanism — at least in rats — for the much-publicized effect of cannabis as a ‘gateway’ to harder drugs.
The discovery hints that the brain system that produces pleasurable sensations when exposed to heroin may be ‘primed’ by earlier exposure to cannabis, say researchers at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, who carried out the study.
… [Researcher Yasmin Hurd] feels that softening the law against marijuana at this point would be “ridiculous”, given the number of unknowns about its effects. She adds that two other drugs that also stimulate opioid cells, and could therefore also feasibly cause a gateway effect, are nicotine and alcohol. “If we turned back the clock with the knowledge we have now, these two drugs would never have been legalized,” Hurd says.
The discovery also warns against complacency that cannabis does not have any lasting effect in young people who use the drug. “Lots of mothers say ‘oh well, at least it’s not cocaine’,” Hurd says. “But this is not about the short-term effects. For adults to do it is one thing, but we have to consider the effects on children.”
But George Mason University’s Statistical Assessment Service (STATS), which monitors the abuse of science and statistics in the media, notes that a few key details are missing from Nature’s overwrought story:
[T]he article did not note that the problem with the “gateway theory” is that the vast majority of cannabis users never try harder drugs. While most illegal drug users start with the most widely available illegal drug — marijuana — most marijuana users start and stop with cannabis. Some 50 percent of high school students try marijuana before graduation, but just eight percent try cocaine, six percent try methamphetamine and less than one percent try heroin. This is why the Institute of Medicine, in a 1999 report on the use of marijuana as medicine, gave no credence to the gateway idea.
And while the article said that cannabis use might similarly predispose to amphetamine or cocaine use, it did not mention that the same authors had previously published a study finding no such effect with amphetamine.
… For the last 40 years or so we’ve run an uncontrolled experiment exposing at least half of America’s teenagers to cannabis. Obviously, it would be better if teenagers didn’t take the risk of exposing themselves to any psychoactive substances.
However, so far, no one has found any effects on mortality, there is no link with lung cancer, there are no deaths from overdosing, cognitive effects are minimal once the drug has worn off in all but the heaviest of users, and rates of use of cannabis and other drugs have waxed and waned over time. This scientist may believe her kids to be equally at risk when trying cannabis or cocaine — but she sure isn’t basing this belief on data. This is an interesting, but preliminary, study which should be covered; but it shouldn’t be covered without context.
More on the drug war here.
* OK, 12.