THE WAR ISN’T OVER: Uncounted Casualties- The Drug War’s Hidden Collateral Damage

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PHOTO: Arohasilouettes,

Good news.

A dear friend of mine, who prefers to remain anonymous, just got word from her doctor that she is cancer-free, which is a rather astonishing fact given that 18 months ago she was diagnosed with Stage III colon cancer and told her survival odds were less than 10%. Even more astonishing is her recovery in light of the fact that she refused the aggressive regimens of chemotherapy and radiation her oncologist tried to push on her; instead, my friend beat her cancer using nutrition and non-toxic cannabis extract, in a treatment course which has astounded her doctors with its results.

I hasten to mention that I am not a doctor, and the information in this article is a poor substitute for a consultation with one’s physician. The ways that cannabinoids interact with tumor cells is still dimly understood by science, and effectiveness seems to vary with the type of cancer treated. Nonetheless, my friend has joined the swelling ranks of Americans, like Michelle Aldrich, who have found cannabis oil to be a potent and essential drug in their successful fights against cancer.

There’s just one tiny problem.

The Web of Federal Law

Strictly speaking, federal law does not ban cannabis. The Controlled Substances Act lists cannabis in Schedule I, meaning the drug lacks any medical value whatsoever and cannot be safely administered even under the supervision of a doctor (Marinol, by contrast, is listed in Schedule III, despite the fact that it contains THC). Accordingly, the DEA is directed to allow marijuana’s existence for purposes of research only. The DEA, according to its discretion, has decided to allow only one pot dealer to exist legally in all of the United States – and that’s the DEA. Thus, federal cannabis law is best regarded not as a prohibition but rather as a monopoly: the biggest and most well-armed gang has declared all other gangs illegal. In the case of Mexican cartels clear-cutting the national forests, such provisions may not seem unreasonable; but when it comes to potentially life-saving research, federal policy has been disastrous.

For the better part of a decade, Lyle Craker has fought that policy through every legal means available to him. Craker, a professor of agriculture at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, has alleged in his lawsuit against the DEA that the feds have abused their monopoly to prevent important medical research from coming to fruition – by intentionally neglecting best cultivation and curing practices, and by selectively making their legal supply available only to researchers who have designed studies to measure the drug’s harms and not its potential benefits. In his suit, Craker has sought the right to grow his own independent supply of medical-grade research cannabis, so modern science can learn more about an important medicine – but the DEA has resisted the professor tooth and nail.

Hope from Overseas

In the face of such bureaucratic obstruction from Washington, D.C., the bulk of medical marijuana research has come from foreign countries like Spain, Israel and South Korea. One Spanish team of neurologists, led by Dr. Manuel Guzman (a student of Ralph Mechoulam, who first isolated THC in 1964), shocked the international medical community with a pioneering technique for treating glioblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer. By injecting THC directly into the tumor’s center, Guzman’s team were able to achieve “significant reduction” in the size of the blastoma in an astonishing 100% of patients. Numerous other international studies have shown the tendency of cannabinoids to trigger apoptosis, or “programmed cell death” in tumor cells, while causing no harm to healthy cells (see Marijuana: Gateway to Health by Clint Werner for a good summary).

Collateral Damage

As of today, no ones knows for sure whether cannabis is the cure for cancer; but the experience of my friend, who is now looking toward the future with a fresh spring of hope, proves that it very well could be. If, in the more rational times of the not-so-distant future, science confirms the anecdotal reports of the healing powers of cannabinoids now pouring in from all corners of the country, then the DEA will turn out to have a sea of innocent blood on its hands. The year 2013 marks a quarter century since the DEA’s own administrative law judge, Francis Young, ordered the agency to reschedule cannabis so it could be more easily studied. How many millions of lives have been lost to cancer in that time? How many could have been saved were it not for the criminal intransigence of our government “for the people?”

Only time will tell. Meanwhile, I’m encouraging my friend to eat her vegetables. We want to make sure we’ll see this unjust war finally end, once and for all.