Is marijuana a safe and effective medicine or a poison that will doom US society and enslave those who use it? To the US Drug Enforcement Agency, marijuana is a "Schedule I" illegal substance that offers no accepted medical use and has a high potential for abuse. Perhaps this explains the ferocity with which the DEA has recently attempted to shut down several clinics in California where marijuana is being offered to people who have a doctor's recommendation that they use the drug.
The reason that the DEA is so opposed to marijuana is that it contains a chemical called tetra-hydrocannabinol or THC. This is the substance that marijuana smokers are most interested in, as it causes the pleasurable effects they seek. To the DEA, THC is one of the most dangerous and addictive molecules on the face of the Earth. The DEA's position on this "dangerous" substance is completely unclear however and deserves some scrutiny.
The first quandary with which we are faced is that the DEA is a law enforcement organization. Their major function is to prevent people from using certain substances for recreational intoxication. They are also charged with determining which substances are to be "scheduled" as illegal or restricted for use only on the advice of a competent medical professional. Let's say that again: the DEA, a law-enforcement organization, is responsible for determining the medical utility of some substances, namely those that are found to be intoxicating when ingested by humans.
Now the first question that comes to my mind is: "Why in the world is a law-enforcement agency making decisions about medicine?" We don't let the Federal Bureau of Investigation make food safety laws, nor charge the Department of Education to make highway laws. Isn't it just a wee bit, shall we say, nonsensical, to have this arrangement with the DEA?
Turning to the "drug schedule" itself, I find an even more curious problem - a synthetic form of THC is a "legal" medicine, listed as a "Schedule III" substance. So, according to the DEA's schedule, a man-made version of THC (marketed under the trade name "Marinol") has been determined to have legitimate medical use, but the naturally occurring THC found in marijuana plants is a dangerous poison with no approved medical use and a high potential for abuse. One more time: the man-made version of the active ingredient is a "medicine," while the naturally occurring version of the same chemical has "no accepted medical use."
Now, I'm not a doctor or a chemist, but I find it entirely curious that the synthetic version of a chemical possesses medical properties that the naturally occurring form does not. The DEA further loses credibility in this issue by virtue of the fact that several people in the US are actually being supplied with marijuana by the US government to treat their glaucoma. Is only US government grown and provided marijuana acceptable as a medicine?
Clearly, the DEA is not approaching this issue from any scientifically valid standpoint. To further discredit themselves, the DEA over the course of the last year or so have started banning food products made from hemp. Hemp is another name for the marijuana plant, so "hemp" plants contain measurable amounts of the dread THC, albeit at much lower levels than plants grown specifically to contain high levels of THC. If a hemp food product contains even one molecule of THC it is deemed illegal and apparently unfit for human consumption.
So what is it about THC that makes it so dangerous? My drinking water is "allowed" to have several molecules of poisons such as lead, arsenic, and who knows what else; but if it contained one molecule of THC the DEA thinks I should be concerned, frightened and perhaps even arrested and jailed over it.
Part of why the DEA is attacking medical clients in California is that they are concerned about "sending a message" to our youth that marijuana is actually not dangerous. They claim that "medical marijuana" is just a ruse to allow legal recreational use. Yet, the "dangers" of using marijuana they cite amount to little more than red eyes and an increased appetite.
What message is sent by arresting and jailing old ladies who use marijuana to abate the nausea caused by cancer treatments? What do our young people think about the utility of jailing people for the act of smoking the wrong plant? How long will we continue to support hunting down and jailing people who choose to intoxicate themselves in the "wrong" manner? Most importantly, how can a given chemical be a medicine and simultaneously not be a medicine? Reefer madness indeed.
Written October 9, 2002
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