Cannabis use not linked with psychosocial harm
By Charnicia E. Huggins - Reuters Health
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Various reports indicate that young people who use cannabis tend to experience psychological and social problems. However, there is no evidence that marijuana use is directly linked with such problems, according to the results of a study published in The Lancet.
"Currently, there is no strong evidence that use of cannabis of itself causes psychological or social problems," such as mental illness or school failure, lead study author Dr. John Macleod of the University of Birmingham in the UK told Reuters Health.
"There is a great deal of evidence that cannabis use is associated with these things, but this association could have several explanations," he said, citing factors such as adversity in early life, which may itself be associated with cannabis use and psychosocial problems.
Macleod and his team reviewed 48 long-term studies, 16 of which provided the highest quality information about the association between illicit drug use reported by people 25 years old or younger and later psychological or social problems. Most of the drug-specific results involved cannabis use.
One consistent finding among the studies was that young people who reported using cannabis were more likely to have attained a lower educational level than their non-cannabis using peers. Cannabis users were also more likely to report an increased use of other illicit drugs.
On the other hand, cannabis use was not consistently associated with violent or antisocial behavior, or with psychological problems.
"We are not saying cannabis is harmless, we are saying the evidence is inconclusive," Macleod told Reuters Health.
"Claims about the dangers of cannabis are often overstated," according to editorialist Dr. Franjo Grotenhermen of the Nova-Institut GmbH, Germany.
However, "there is reason to believe that cannabis can cause psychological and social harm to young people even if the causal association is not proven yet," he told Reuters Health. "Cannabis use may also cause physical harms including respiratory problems and cancer."
Still, Grotenhermen, executive director of the International Association for Cannabis as Medicine (IACM), argues against complete prohibition of cannabis use.
"Alcohol prohibition was not very successful in reducing consumption and was very harmful to society," he said. "It seems that cannabis prohibition also does not work very well."
"Cannabis prohibition does not seem to reduce consumption," he added, and it may "drive otherwise law-obeying young people into illegal activities."
In January of this year, Britain relaxed its laws against cannabis, downgrading the drug from class B to the "lower risk" C category, the same category used for steroids and antidepressants.
Under the new law, adults over the age of 17 who are caught smoking or in possession of a small amount of marijuana or hashish are not necessarily arrested or fined. Arrests are made for underage users, however, and penalties for growing and dealing in the drug have both been toughened to a maximum 14 years in prison.
This change in British law, "is a sensible attempt to balance the possible harms caused by cannabis and its prohibition," Grotenhermen writes.
Recent study findings indicate that marijuana use among adults in the United States remained stable in the 1990s, at about 4 percent. Marijuana abuse and dependence rose to 1.5 percent from 1.2 percent, however, possibly because the prevalence of more potent drugs.
SOURCE: The Lancet, May 15, 2004.
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1,000 rally in Toronto to call for legalization of marijuana
STEVE FAIRBAIRN Canadian Press
TORONTO (CP) - Marijuana users chanted "we love weed" as they marched through the streets of downtown Toronto on Saturday, smoking their hearts out and calling for Ottawa to legalize the drug.
About 1,000 demonstrators rallied at the Ontario legislature and later marched through some of Toronto's busiest streets with a police escort. They were led by Alison Myrden, who suffers from multiple sclerosis and is wheelchair bound. She has long fought for legalized marijuana to ease her pain. Protest is important to raise public awareness about the medicinal benefits of marijuana, Myrden said.
"People don't understand that sick people still don't have an affordable quality source of medicine," she said as she manoeuvred her wheelchair along a tony stretch of Bloor Street. "Our government is not helping us." Many Canadians with chronic illnesses have been granted exemptions under the law and can legally use marijuana to ease their pain. But getting a reliable source of marijuana continues to be difficult for many medicinal users.
Ottawa has set up an underground grow operation in Manitoba, but many patients who have received the government pot have shunned it, citing poor quality. The federal Liberal government has dodged efforts to legalize marijuana, instead proposing to decriminalize it. Under a bill now before Parliament, possessing 15 grams or less of marijuana would no longer be a criminal matter, but would be dealt with by a fine. The federal bill followed a decision by an Ontario Superior Court judge last year who ruled that possession of less than 30 grams if marijuana was no longer against the law.
Police forces in Ontario said they wouldn't lay charges for basic possession until the situation was clarified and that sentiment spread across the country. At Saturday's protest, police were more concerned about protecting the marchers from Toronto drivers than they were about the plumes of smoke that wafted around the demonstrators. One marcher holding a large joint stopped to have his picture taken with an officer helping to direct traffic, who only responded with an embarrassed smile.
Although marijuana advocates want no strings attached to using the drug, they'll settle for Ottawa's middle ground for now, said organizer Franklin Skanks. "It's time to legalize it, time to change the laws," he said. "I'd prefer legalization but decriminalization would be the first step."
"I really believe that everyone should be free to enjoy it because it is such an amazing thing," said Katelyn Knight, a 19-year-old Toronto college student. "Unless you smoke it, you don't realize how amazing it is." The demonstration was part of the Million Marijuana March, a worldwide event held annually in more than 200 cities to demand the full legalization of pot. Canadian marches were also planned in Vancouver and Montreal.
© The Canadian Press, 2004
Marijuana advocate seeks NDP nomination
Improved health care and better support for persons with disabilities are key issues for Myrden, who has Multiple Sclerosis. The Burlington resident noted the maximum income for a single person with a disability is only $900 per month. "I'm fully disabled and I haven't had a raise in years," said Myrden. "It's a crime committed against people who are disabled. They have no income and no quality of life."
Myrden noted she has relied on her mother and longtime boyfriend Gary for support. "I cannot be independent and I'd like to have that opportunity," she said. "I don't want to be a low income person. I want to be someone who does something as a productive member of society." Myrden has had chronic progressive MS since age 13 and chronic pain called Tic Douloureux.
But Myrden is ready to campaign from her wheelchair. "I know I can take the candidacy on," she said. "I'm really excited about it." She has used marijuana to reduce pain and said it has enabled her to walk for brief periods. But Myrden said a better quality of marijuana is needed for medical users. She has been a party to legal action compelling Health Canada to provide a safe reliable source of medicinal marijuana for critically and chronically ill Canadians.
Before becoming a medical rights activist, she attended Sheridan College and worked as a medical secretary. She was also a provincial corrections officer working with at-risk youths and young offenders.
to Alison Myrden and Tim Meehan
Marijuana Eases HIV-related Nerve Pain
Thursday, February 12, 2004
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters Health) - For people with nerve damage that can result from HIV infection, smoking marijuana seems to relieve the pain they experience, according to the results of a small pilot study.
Diffuse nerve pain, or polyneuropathy, is a significant problem for many people with HIV infection. Pre-clinical research findings suggest that cannabis-like compounds may be effective for treating neuropathic pain, Dr. Cheryl Jay of the University of California, San Francisco and colleagues noted this week at the 11th Annual Retrovirus Conference.
In a trial, 16 HIV-infected subjects with neuropathy were given three marijuana cigarettes each day for seven days. The cigarettes were dispensed by the pharmacy at San Francisco General Hospital. All of the patients reported previous experience smoking marijuana but had not done so for 30 days prior to the trial. Fourteen of the participants were men, and their average age was 43 years. They had had neuropathy for an average of 6 years.
Reductions in pain were assessed using a 0-to-100 visual scale. The aim was to achieve a 30 percent reduction in average daily pain, "which is a pretty typical standard used in pain studies, and is considered a clinically meaningful amount of pain relief," Jay told Reuters Health.
Average pain scores dropped from 47 at the start of the study to 20 at the end of the seven-day period. Twelve of the 16participants reached the 30-percent goal in reduction of pain, Jay said.
A trial with participants randomized to receive marijuana or an inactive placebo has now been started, she added, and 20 out of 50 participants have been enrolled so far.
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Pot Proponent Just Says No
marijuana's elder statesman is not convinced that the therapeutic
Issue 79 | February 2004, By: Fast Company
You might think that the eminence grise of the medical-marijuana movement would enthusiastically support an effort by the British biotech GW Pharmaceuticals to produce and market medicines derived from Cannabis sativa . But in the Aboveground Marijuana Economy, there's no such thing as a safe assumption.
Lester Grinspoon is a grandfather, an emeritus professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, and the author of two seminal books on the therapeutic benefits of pot: Marihuana Reconsidered and Marihuana: The Forbidden Medicine (co-authored with James B. Bakalar). In an interview in his office in a Boston suburb, Grinspoon declared that the efficacy of cannabis as a medicine is beyond question, citing its versatility in treating a whole host of illnesses and symptoms, from glaucoma to arthritis pain to Krohn's disease to migraine headaches. "Not a single death has ever been attributed to a marijuana overdose," he says. "Marijuana is one of the least toxic drugs known to humankind."
Grinspoon was opposed to marijuana use until the early 1970s, when his 10-year old son was diagnosed with acute lymphatic leukemia. In his book, The Forbidden Medicine , he movingly describes how the drug relieved the violent nausea his son experienced from chemotherapy "during the remaining year of his life." Since then, he has interviewed hundreds of patients who say they have been helped by marijuana.
Nevertheless, Grinspoon is critical of GW's plan to market Sativex, a cannabis-laced oral spray that shows promise in relieving the pain and muscle rigidity that accompanies multiple sclerosis. It's a curious stance, given that GW has reported to