Medical cannabis and beyond

On December 7, 2012, in Latest News, by The Somerville Times

Part 1:  Good medicine

By William C. Shelton

 (The opinions and views expressed in the commentaries of The Somerville News belong solely to the authors of those commentaries and do not reflect the views or opinions of The Somerville News, its staff or publishers.)

Only 20.8% of ‘Villens who voted in last month’s election opposed Question 3, the ballot measure that legalizes and regulates the medical use of cannabis. But officials in nearby Wakefield and Reading have already banned treatment centers. Those in Melrose and Peabody are considering bans. And politicians in Boston, Framingham, and Quincy are discussing narrow restrictions.

Like voters who opposed the measure, their concerns about public health, crime, and young people’s wellbeing are sincere. But attitudes regarding cannabis seem to be much more related to the extent of one’s understanding or ignorance of the evidence than to the righteousness of one’s concerns.

Among the claims regarding cannabis’s medicinal value that most evoke skepticism from doubters is the range of ailments for which it is efficacious—multiple sclerosis, ALS, rheumatoid arthritis, hepatitis C, glaucoma, rheumatoid arthritis, cancer, depression, PTSD, osteoporosis, diabetes, nausea, eczema, Crohn’s disease, and others.

I understand why scoffers would see such claims as a litany of excuses for so called “patients” to legally get high. How could one plant possibly contain so many different compounds that are efficacious in treating so many different conditions?

The answer is one of God’s, or evolution’s—or both, if you believe as I do—awe-inspiring mysteries. It is the endocannabinoid system, which for 600 million years has existed in all animals more advanced than mollusks.

Its purpose appears to be homeostasis—establishing and maintaining health by stabilizing the body’s internal environment in response to fluctuations in the external environment. It helps to regulate immunity, inflammation, neurotoxicity, blood pressure, body temperature, appetite, gastrointestinal functioning, bone formation, analgesia, and physical and psychological responses to stress and trauma.

It operates through the activation of its own receptors, molecules embedded in or on a cell that receive chemical signals that direct the cell to do something. The “signal” is a molecule external to the cell called a ligand that binds to the receptor. Each ligand, like a key, can only fit into specific receptors that unlock specific responses.

The human neurological, circulatory, digestive, endocrine, immune and musculoskeletal systems are strewn with endocannabinoid receptors, and their ligands are cannabinoids.

Researchers have so far identified five cannabinoids that the human body itself produces, and at least 85 that cannabis plants produce. Cannabinoids not only regulate cells, but also facilitate communication among cell types.

For 70 years, federal policies have discouraged cannabis research. Nevertheless, scientists worldwide have published over 20,000 studies of cannabis and its medicinal properties, including 2,700 in 2009, 1,950 in 2010, and over 2,500 last year.

Here are just a few examples of findings that, collectively, tempt one to call cannabis a “miracle drug.”

Neuropathy is nerve damage resulting from a variety of causes, including physical trauma, diabetes, liver failure, cancer, toxins, Lyme disease, HIV, and shingles. The pain caused by neuropathy is notoriously difficult to treat. In 2010, four separate University of California studies using FDA clinical trial designs found that cannabis reduced patients’ pain to an extent as good as, or better than, currently available medications, but with less harmful side effects.

Cannabis is efficacious in treating the cramping, inflammation, pain, diarrhea and weight loss associated with such gastrointestinal diseases as colitis, Crohn’s disease, and irritable bowel syndrome. For example, a Mayo Clinic study involving 52 patients found that a cannabinoid relaxed the colon and reduced stomach cramps after eating.

Cannabis is an effective anti-convulsant and anti-spasmodic. It has been used to treat epilepsy for over a thousand years. Today, numerous epileptics report that cannabis use completely eliminates their grand mal seizures.

Its efficacy in treating Multiple Sclerosis symptoms is well established.  One 434-day study involving 167 patents, for example, found that cannabinoids relieved spasticity, pain, and bladder incontinence, without requiring dosage increases. But recent studies suggest that cannabinoids can inhibit the progression of MS as well. This is because of cannabinoids’ capacity to stabilize the immune system.

A growing body of clinical and preclinical studies is finding that cannabinoids can reduce the spread of specific cancer cells, both by instructing the cells to kill themselves (apoptosis) and by blocking the formation of blood cells that feed tumors (angiogenesis). The most study thus far has focused on brain and breast tumors.

Skeptics might reasonably ask why caregivers can’t just prescribe compounds whose effects mimic those of various cannabinoids. One important reason is that cannabinoids’ effects are synergistic. That is, they interact with each other, with different receptors, and with over 100 terpenoids and 20 flavonoids found in cannabis to create effects that are greater and different than the sum of their parts. Science is still far from fully understanding these interactions.

A second reason is safety. “Marijuana in its natural form is one of the safest therapeutically active substances known to man.I’m quoting the Drug Enforcement Administration’s former Administrative Law Judge, Francis J. Young.

Consider, for example, that at least seven cannabinoids are known to reduce inflammation. But while at least 16,500 Americans die each year from taking anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin, Advil, Motrin, and Tylenol, the World Health Organization says that no death has ever resulted from a cannabis overdose.

Physicians have been using cannabis effectively for 5,000 years. Cannabis cultivators like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson extolled the plant’s many virtues.

After extensive study of Indian medical literature and clinical practice, Dr. William B. Shaunessy introduced cannabis to the West’s modern pharmacopeia in 1839. Queen Victoria’s doctor prescribed cannabis to treat her menstrual cramps. He wrote that it was, “by far the most useful of drugs” in treating migraine, neuralgia, convulsions, and insomnia.

When it was made illegal in 1939, cannabis was the active ingredient in dozens of medicines marketed by Merck, Eli Lilly, Parke Davis, and other pharmaceutical companies.

So how did a plant that provides such exceptional benefits to humankind come to be so reviled and illegal? How did those who use, grow, and sell it come to be despised and imprisoned?

That’s the subject of the next column in this series.


32 Responses to “Medical cannabis and beyond”

  1. Ray Spitzer says:

    That’s right, William Shelton, this is a core system in our organisms. That is one more reason NOT to mess with its self-regulation, not an argument for legalizing pot usage! Something tells me you have been using for a long time and desperately need some self-rationalization for why it is good for you. The bad news is that it is NOT good for you in the long run.

  2. Ray Spitzer says:

    “Queen Victoria’s doctor prescribed cannabis to treat her menstrual cramps. ”

    Well, leeches were used for all sort of “blood purification” purposes. And so on.

  3. Davis Wyman says:

    So Ray, do you use pharmaceuticals? Drink coffee or tea? What about a beer or a glass of wine from time to time? So much for your argument.

    Self-regulation, what utter toss. Tell that to a cancer or AIDS sufferer. Or someone with a headache. We eat when we are hungry, and we take medicine when we are sick. For many ailments, the science is there: this is the best medicine.

    On top of that, it’s a plant. It grows in the wild. And yet the government lists it as more harmful than methamphetamine. Defend that, why don’t you.

  4. n. says:

    My guess is that Ray Spitzer doesn’t have any chronic illness. Hey, Ray Spitzer: messing with a “core system in our organisms” is done all the time. It’s done in patients that have cancer with chemotherapy. It’s done with people that have IBD’s with biologic drugs. What makes it so different to do this for people with cannabis? Just the fact that it is illegal? How is cannabis treatment so bad in the long run in comparison to chemotherapy, antibiotics, pain medications, and biologic drugs? I anxiously await your response.

  5. A. Moore says:

    I think many just voted for it like myself because it just can’t be controlled by law and may as well just be legal like alcohol and cigarettes. It will be abused like the latter by many, but that is happening anyway. The government could not squash alcohol so it really is a losing battle to have it ilegal. If it is indeed helpful as stated that’s even a better reason. With government control and taxes on it we should see a decrease in our takes(like that will happen). Personally I did try it a number of years ago and disliked it and have no desire to try it again. Next we will try for legalizing prostitution, might as well get it all out there.

  6. Kim Morera says:

    My husband is currently participating in a privately funded clinical trial for his advanced prostate cancer using a highly concentrated Cannabis extract. His current Lab wook has shown a marked decrease in this cancer markers, which consideringthe fact that the Cannabis treatment has no negative side effects, has been nothing short of miraculous. If you told me six months ago that Marijuana could cure cancer, I would have made the same lame jokes that I hear on media sites in regards to the medical benefits of Cannabis ( which is it’s true name, not, the made up name that the DEA prefers). Now, I have evidence that Cannabis could be ” the miracle drug/plant compound “.

  7. Harry says:

    You potheads librals make me laugh!

  8. Don Berry says:

    Thanks, Mr. Shelton, for such a clear, informed article. Detractors are free to check the references you mention if they care to. I look forward to the next installment on how this beneficial plant came to be banned. To me, that is one of the most fascinating and under-investigated stories of American history…maybe because the news media of the time were complicit in the demonizing of all things cannabis then maintaining that stream of propaganda for decades.

  9. Harry says:

    This does explain a lot as I’ve always assumed that Bill was high as a kite when he wrote his articles/opinion pieces. This confirms that.

  10. Marijuana has proven itself ten folds to all other so called medical cures like chemotherapy and pills that have so many side effects you can’t even keep track of them. How many pills have the warning signs may cause death. Research that shit if you want to find out some real harm. These so call doctors hold in their hands the real gateway drug that fat prescription tablet. Marijuana does not kill you and has never harmed anyone when used in it’s pure and natural state. It is so sad that there are so many out there who are so delutional about the real facts of marijuana. Yet they uphold that all mighty prescrition pad and drink their alcohol and smoke their cigarettes. Then they want to tell me marijuana is harmful what a bunch of idiots. pPp :)

  11. MarketMan says:

    I’m not informed enough to make an opinion about its Medical uses. I have to say that I’m skeptical about how miraculous people make it out to be. But the main issue I have is that this bill, as written, it that it will just channel illegal activity in a different way. I think it should be legal for any use, and just regulate it the same way we do with alcohol and cigarettes. Taking such action may cause a short term spike in abuse, but with proper (and factual) education-based propaganda we can actually control things to some extent. Look at cigarette use. It’s now considered a “nasty” habit by most, and many people will not enough touch the stuff. That wasn’t always true.

    The fact that banks will not deal with MJ dispensaries is a concern, because it forces them to be a cash based system… making them a crime target.

  12. Jason C says:

    Looks like the question 3 argument all over again. And of course the ignoramuses are predictably butting in with their smarmy little cheap shots. Sounds to me like alcohol damage to the brain. Pack it in. The grownups are talking here.

  13. Ray Spitzer says:

    There is another fantastic medicine with absolutely no side effects and it’s called placebo.

  14. superman says:

    there’s rays in every crowd, best to ignore him and his childish prattle .everything the author says is true the best plant on the planet . Happy 420

  15. Ray Spitzer says:

    Evolution takes care of the “supermen” of this world, who jump out of buildings convinced they can fly while under the influence.

  16. Mike says:

    This article is amazing best piece I have read on the subject! and Harry’s comment that the author is high everytime he writes is absurd!! The author is Yale educated!!

  17. Ray Spitzer says:

    Mike, George Bush and Mitt Romney are Harvard educated… So?

  18. Libertarian says:

    I don’t get the stigma around it. I personally never got into the pot/drug culture – I’ve always been too busy focusing on my career and making a pantload of money to check it out.

    Laws protect us from each other, not ourselves. Prohibition is a myth and legislating morality is a farce.

  19. Harry says:

    Don’t get me wrong, Libertarian, the more dumb potheads there are out there and the more money we can make off them! The problem is that one day one of these potheads my run over your daughter as they drive while under the influence.

  20. Ray Spitzer says:

    So, Harry, that is what you think of the rest of us? We are all potheads you can extract money from? I say you are not fit to live in a community and you should be ostracized.

  21. TheTruthWillSetYouFree says:

    The federal government has known cannabinoids kill cancer since 1974, when it sanctioned the University of Virginia to study the negative effects cannabis had on the immune system. The final report showed cannabis killed cancer cells. The federal government’s response was to defund the program. Go to pub med, where peer reviewed medical science is published and do a search on cannabinoids. There are 100’s of published peer reviewed science reports on the SAFE and effective use of medicinal cannabis. Hemp oil was standard medication for every doctor and was produced by every pharmaceutical company in the US until it was outlawed solely to protect special interests. The genie is out of the bottle on the most medicinal plant known to man and there is absolutely nothing the poison dispensing pharmaceutical companies, there brainwashed doctors, or uninformed citizens posting uninformed comments here can do to put it back in. Cannabis is Gods gift. It is as safe as lettuce, far more medicinal, and should be similarly free for all to enjoy and benefit from as each so desires…..and for all you fools hung up about cannabis actually making patients feel good, there are plenty non phyco-active cannabinoids and low THC strains for you. Do your own research, there is plenty of it out there. The truth will set you free.

    Great Article!!!!!!!

  22. PatientInNeed says:

    I finished cancer treatment over eight months ago, yet still suffer from the side effects of the harsh treatments and procedures, with no end in sight.

    In 1999, the US Government’s Institute of Medicine issued a report showing that cannabis causes no harmful side effects and recommended further study for its medicinal uses. Additionally, numerous studies and anecdotal stories show that cannabis can slow or stop tumor growth. So, of course, I want to try it! If not for its ability to prevent recurrence, then at least to see if it can ease my chronic discomfort, which seems like a certain outcome, from what I read.

    I cannot understand why anyone would want to prevent an effective herbal medicine, which causes no harmful side effects, from becoming available to patients who will certainly be harmed from harsh conventional treatments.

    Shouldn’t we have the right to choose?

  23. Also, there are over 200 human conditions and illnesses that respond to the cannabinoids produced (over 80 of them) by the cannabis plant. As for all you spitzer-like trolls, go back to school and learn some chemistry or STFU.

  24. Hey Harry! How many ‘potheads’ do you think you pass on the roads everyday? With about 12 million people a month using it illegally anyway, I bet it’s much, much higher than you fool yourself into thinking. IF you thought about it at all. There are millions out there that have not run over anyone. Talk to your alcoholic friends about that, or better yet, go to a prison and ask the repeat offenders who FINALLY earned their way off the streets by killing people under the influence of your legal boozer! Ask the police who constantly have to taze and fight with the drunks who endanger everyone else on the road when they drive at 80-90 miles an hour, to evade arrest!!! They even do it on motorcycles! How stupid is that? The first gateway drugs are alcohol and tobacco (tried to quit smoking lately?), and the pharmaceutical industry has added a butt-load of stuff to that. Like DuPont used to say; “Better things, for better living, through chemistry”!

  25. By the way, the last 3 Presidents (including Barry) have smoked it. Did you forget that? If they broke the law how did they get into the white house? They didn’t get caught, and lied on top of that.

  26. Harry says:

    There is no difference between using pot and immigrating illegally in my book. They are both violations of the law. I can see why liberals who want America to be invaded by illegal immigrants also want pot legalized! As I said, it’s fine with me if the world is full of potheads. I’ve got plenty of good stuff to sell ya guys and make a bundle! Just give me your money and stay far from me though.

  27. Mike says:

    Harry has lost his marbles!!

  28. TheTruthWillSetYouFree says:

    Harry sees no difference between enforcement of immigration law necessary to remain a country, and the prohibition of a harmless, medicinal plant. If he wasn’t so vocal about being absurdly brainwashed(like so many others) to hate a harmless herbal medicine, I’d swear he must be smoking a high THC Sativa strain….though I would suggest he switch to a lower THC, higher CBD indica. That’s pot humor for chill out dude, stop hating on God’s wondrous medicinal plant.

  29. roy says:

    wow so many medical uses and it was banned for so long. I wonder who benefited while tens of thousands of sick patients suffered for so long.

    hmm. how would one look into that question?

    how about follow the money?
    1. money went into law enforcement- perhpas thats not that bad except that mostly minorities were jailed for selling and smoking pot.

    2. money went into drug traffickers pockets – thats definitely a very bad thing. no quesitons about that i hope.

    3. money went into competing and less effective drug manufacturing- not very good considering those multi milions went into less effective drugs that wasted money and didnt help patients

    4, of course the $60K question, how much would a drug trafficker invest in bribery of police and gov that provdes him/her with a quaranteed multi million dollar profit per year trough ‘drug wars’ and ‘prohibition’. let us say 33% for the sake of the argument. 33% of what total? various estimated you can make are all in the 10’s to 100’s $B/yr. so next question:
    5. who got these billions of dollars?

  30. Thisis_Insane says:

    I am so tired of people spouting the government propaganda about something of which they know very little, or nothing at all. This plant was a medicine for far longer than our government has made it against the law. It has been used in various cultures around the world, for the last 5000 years, and up until 1927 was listed in the Unites States’ own Pharmacopeia (which, for you lay people, is the drug listing Doctors use to treat people, i.e., US.). It was in various tinctures made by Squibb and other companies which are still in business today. Stop with the running around in circles ignorant ‘logic’ that has been generated by the government to control racial minorities, and then the hippies of the 60s-70s, and start looking around. YouTube is full of films and documentaries that can allow you to listen to Doctors whose families have been directly impacted by the capabilities of the compounds in this plant. If you don’t agree with that, try going to leap (dot) cc and see what they have to say for yourself. If you haven’t the time, or wish to remain ignorant, then stay off of these websites (please?) because we have enough trolls to go around. GO back to your beers and coffee and cigarettes, (the Original Gateway drugs) and have fun with cancer, liver disease and high blood pressure. Oh, and check out the newest research that shows what the caffeine molecule looks like, and what it does to the human body…

  31. Thisis_Insane says:

    By the way, the real name of it is Cannabis. Marijuana was a term used to change the dialogue, and the way it was seen, when they were using Hollywood to generate all that propaganda about how bad it was. All LIES.

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