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Alan Trachtenberg, Md  
     
     
Physiciansfor a Smoke-Free Canada (PSC) asking to abandon Health Canada's currentmarijuana program and replace it with one that does not involve inhalingmarijuana smoke.

Physiciansfor a Smoke-Free Canada (PSC) position paper on medical marijuana

"GW is a pharmaceutical companydeveloping a portfolio of prescription medicines derived from cannabis to meetpatient needs in a wide range of therapeutic indications."

By E.Patrick Curry

Lester Grinspoon blithely dismisses any serious healthconsiderations in the smoking of marijuana. Indeed, Dr. Grinspoon — a longtimeproponent of legalization of not only marijuana but also of a wide range ofpsychedelic drugs — has routinely dismissed most evidence of the deleteriouseffects of smoked marijuana, attributing it to the propaganda of anti-drugwarriors and their friends in the National Institutes of Health. In his article,he rejects the assertions in the 1999 report of the Institute of Medicine onmedicinal marijuana that smoked marijuana is dangerous because it increasessmokers' chances "of cancer, lung damage, and problems with pregnancy."

More recently, on January 23, 2002, Grinspoon was quoted in the TorontoGlobe and Mail(1) criticizing a comprehensive position paper on medicalmarijuana from Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada(2) that labeled smoked medicalmarijuana risky. Grinspoon is described as calling their report on smokedmarijuana dangers an "urban myth." The highly respected group — which supportsresearch into and therapeutic use of non-smoked medical marijuana and itsderivatives such as THC — warned that smoked marijuana produced 50% more tar and70% more benzopyrene than cigarettes, noting that recent research has shown thatsmoking two to three marijuana cigarettes a day probably has as muchcancer-causing potential as twenty to thirty cigarettes. They point out thateven the much ballyhooed treatment of glaucoma with smoked marijuana (used toreduce intra-ocular pressure), requires the smoking of marijuana every two tothree hours.(3)

In response, Grinspoon, sounding for all the world likea tobacco industry executive, is quoted saying, "Who has seen the pulmonaryconsequences of smoking marijuana?" — further predicting that it "will beconsidered one of the least harmful substances in our entire compendium."

While Grinspoon minimizes the dangers, even Cannabis News has posted onits own website a January 2000 Washington Post article, "Researchers LinkMarijuana to Cancer," about research at Sloan-Kettering that links marijuana usewith cancers of the head and neck, including tumors of the mouth, throat, andlarynx.(4)

One recent study at UCLA's Jonnson Comprehensive CancerCenter found that tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), marijuana's most psychoactivecomponent, may promote tumor growth and weaken the body's immune response tocancer. That study's authors warn that marijuana may be much more carcinogenicthan tobacco. The study expanded on earlier research findings indicating thatTHC can lower immune resistance to bacterial and viral infections.(5)

Not only does Grinspoon dismiss the increasing evidence of marijuana'scarcinogenic effects, he also seems to ignore other disturbing researchassociating marijuana use with problems of aggression, amotivational syndrome,bronchitis/chronic cough and respiratory system damage, chronic anxiety,depression, distorted perception, impaired learning, impaired judgment, impairedproblem-solving, complex motor skills impairment, immune system damage, memorydamage, reproductive system problems, secondhand smoke effects, andschizophrenia.(6) While some limited medicinal uses for marijuana and/or itsactive ingredients may be discovered, clearly it is not simply a benignsubstance nor a wonder herb.

While the dietary supplement business,herbal medicine industry, and other areas of "alternative medicine" mayroutinely ignore such scientific evidence of potential adverse health effects,one hardly expects a Harvard psychiatry professor to be so dismissive of themany warning signs, especially about smoked marijuana. Why has Lester Grinspoonemerged as such a champion of medical marijuana smoking?

Dr. Grinspoonfirst engaged in marijuana research in 1968 at Harvard University, research thathe claims convinced him of the relative benignity of marijuana. The newlygraduated Harvard M.D., Dr. Andrew Weil, assisted Grinspoon in this research.(7)At the very same time, Weil had fallen under the spell of Harvard psychologistsTimothy Leary and Richard Alpert (a.k.a. Ram Dass) and was extremely busy usingmarijuana, LSD, and other psychedelics to explore his "natural mind."(8)

Weil left Harvard, first to pursue a career proselytizing for therevolutionary "mind altering" and spiritual effects of psychedelics, then to bean alternative medicine guru. Weil's own advocacy of the herbal medicinal usesof marijuana (hemp) and LSD as a treatment for such things as cat allergiesindicate that he has effectively combined his two career paths of drug advocacyand alternative medicine.

Grinspoon, too, has made a career out of his1960s conversion, writing seminal works championed by the marijuana andpsychedelic drug sub-cultures with his frequent co-author James B. Bakalar.Their book Psychedelic Drugs Reconsidered was published in 1979 and was recentlyrepublished by the Lindesmith Center in 1997. Another book of theirs,Psychedelic Reflections, was published in 1983.(9) One of their most recentbooks, Marijuana, The Forbidden Medicine, was published in 1997. Solo, Grinspoonwrote the book Marihuana Reconsidered, published in 1971, immediately after hisHarvard marijuana studies. The book was republished in 1994.

Like Weil,Grinspoon seems to believe there are "no bad drugs." Over the years, he hasinsisted on the relative safety of cocaine, ketamine, ecstasy (MDMA), LSD (underproper supervision), and other psychedelics. Many who have maintained theirassociation with him for decades come out of the inner circles of psychedelicspiritualism. In addition to being the Lindesmith Center's expert on marijuana,he serves as a scientific advisor, consultant and/or collaborator with suchpsychedelic advocacy groups as the Albert Hofmann Foundation, theMultidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, and the Heffter ResearchInstitute. He is currently a scientific advisor to a bizarre "anti-psychiatry"group called the the Alchemind Society, whose executive director specializes in"the jurisprudence of extraordinary states of consciousness, dissident thinking,and shamanic inebriants." The rest of the society's advisory board is made up ofmystics, paranormalists, psychedelic spiritualists, psychedelic "therapists,"and other psychiatric "dissidents," including Ram Dass.(10)

Grinspoon'sown commitment to the use of psychedelic drugs as part of spiritualpsychotherapy was detailed in a 1986 article in the American Journal ofPsychotherapy entitled "Can Drugs be Used to Enhance the PsychotherapeuticProcess?" in which he argues that LSD can and should be used to triggerspiritual conversion as a psychotherapeutic treatment.(11) The central"evidence" he presents is a late 1960s experiment run by a paranormal New Agemystic named Stanislav Grof at the Spring Grove State Hospital in Maryland. Grofsubjected terminally-ill cancer patients to horrendously nightmarish LSD-inducedhallucinations as part of an "experiment" in stress reduction.(12, 13)

Grinspoon's 1986 endorsement of "therapeutic" psychedelic spiritualconversion is used to give credibility to a resurgent psychedelic mysticismmovement that is now arguing for the psychotherapeutic or "self-therapeutic"uses of ecstasy, LSD, ketamine, psilocybin and other currently illegal drugs.Indeed, a 2000 Wired.com article "Lucy in the Sky with Therapy" describes thiscurrently underground movement.(14)

After citing experts warning aboutresearch showing potential brain damage from use of Ecstasy and other suchdrugs, the Wired article mentions Dr. Grinspoon:

"Dr. Lester Grinspoon,an associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School who sued the DEAwhen it declared ecstasy a schedule 1 controlled substance in 1985, said hedoesn't quite trust studies performed by the National Institute of Drug Abuse.'The NIH is a wonderful institution as a whole and truly their interest is inscience,' Grinspoon said. 'But the NIDA really lost it where science isconcerned and has become a ministry of drug propaganda.'"

Indeed, whoare we to believe on psychedelics and on smoked marijuana? Will it be theanti-drug conspirators of the U.S. Government's National Institutes of Healthand virtually all of modern medical science...or the estimable Dr. LesterGrinspoon who still delights in those wondrous dreams shared with Andrew Weil,Tim Leary, and Ram Dass at Harvard in the halcyon days of the 1960s? Perhaps thereaders of HealthFactsAndFears.com will now have somewhat better informationupon which to make their choice.

Documentation:

1. Toronto Globeand Mail, 1/23/02, "Smoking Medical Marijuana Too Risky, Lobby Group Says," byOliver Moore: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/RTGAMArticleHTMLTemplate/C/20020123/wmari2301?hub=homeBN&tf=tgam%252Frealtime%252Ffullstory.html&cf=tgam/realtime/config-neutral&vg=BigAdVariableGenerator&slug=wmari2301&date=20020123&archive=RTGAM&site=Front&ad_page_name=breakingnews

2. Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada Web-site:
http://www.smoke-free.ca/

3. Position Paper on Marijuana as Medicinefrom Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada:
http://www.smoke-free.ca/pdf_1/psc-position-on-marijuana.PDF

4.Washington Post, 1/11/00, "Researchers Link Marijuana to Cancer", Susan Okie:
http://www.cannabisnews.com/news/thread4267.shtml

5. NIH, 6/20/2000,Study Finds Marijuana Ingredient Promotes Tumor Growth; Impairs Anti-TumorDefenses:
http://www.health.org/reality/articles/2000/press/july2000.asp

6. Governmental and medical sources with reports of research:

National Institute on Drug Abuse:
http://www.drugabuse.gov/DrugPages/Marijuana.html

MedlinePlusMarijuana Abuse page:
http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/marijuanaabuse.html

Note the latest study, "Long-time Pot Users Show Mental Deficits."

The National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information:
http://www.health.org/catalog/ordersystem2.asp?Topic=54#pubs

ABritish House of Lords report (1997-98) on adverse effects of cannabis use, withmany citations, declaring the evidence is stronger than ever of its potentiallyharmful effects:
http://www.parliament.the-stationery-office.co.uk/pa/ld199798/ldselect/ldsctech/151/15105.htm

7. Andrew Weil describes his research collaboration with Grinspoon in"No Bad Drugs: The Newservice Interview: Dr. Andrew Weil," 1983:
http://www.doitnow.org/pages/weil.html

8. Arnold Relman, M.D., "ATrip to Stonesville: Some Notes on Andrew Weil (1998)":
http://www.quackwatch.com/11Ind/weil.html

9. Review ofGrinspoon/Bakalar Psychedelic Reflections on website of the Council of SpiritualPractices, dedicated to the use of psychedelic "entheogens" to achievespiritualty:
http://www.csp.org/chrestomathy/psychedelic_reflections.html

10. The Alchemind Society:
http://www.alchemind.org/alchemindadvisors.htm

11. Lester Grinspoon,M.D. and James Bakalar, American Journal of Psychotherapy, Vol. XL, no. 3, "CanDrugs be Used to Enhance the Psychotherapeutic Process?":
http://leda.lycaeum.org/Documents/Can_Drugs_Be_Used_to_Enhance_the_Psychotherapeutic_Process.16866.shtml

12. E. Patrick Curry, "Carl Jung, Stanislav Grof and New Age MedicalMysticism," to be published in the Spring 2002 issue of the Scientific Review ofAlternative Medicine.

13. A chapter on the paranormal, mystical Dr.Stanislav Grof is included in Paul Edwards' Reincarnation: A CriticalExamination, Prometheus Press, 1996. Dr. Grof's mystical ideas can also easilybe determined by simple Web searches. He is a major champion of New Agemysticism.

14. "Lucy in the Sky with Therapy", Wired.com, November 2,2000:
http://www.wired.com/news/technology/0,1282,39796,00.html?tw=wn20001109

Note: The full text of the Institute of Medicine report "Marijuana andMedicine" is posted at the National Academy Press site at:
http://www.nap.edu/
readingroom/books/
marimed/

The April28, 1999 JAMA article "Therapeutic Marijuana Use Supported While ThoroughProposed Study Done" is posted at:
http://jama.ama-assn.org/
issues/v281n16
/ffull/jmn0428-1.html

E. Patrick Curry haswritten for the Scientific Review of Alternative Medicine and has received the2000 Scientific and Professional Integrity Trophy from The Science &Pseudoscience Review in Mental Health.


href="http://www.nature.com/cgi-taf/DynaPage.taf?file=/nature/journal/v418/n6897/full/nature00839_fs.html">The endogenous cannabinoid system controls extinction of aversive memories(MARSICANO et al; Nature 418, 530 - 534 (2002))