What if everything you were ever told and believed about a subject wasn't true? What if the well-meaning, trusted and respected people who told you those lies were just parroting the propaganda that they heard?
That's the exact dilemma I found myself in about three years ago. For most of my life, I bought into the grim and terrifying stories I heard about -- dare I say it? -- marijuana.
Whether they called it doobie, reefer, pot, Mary Jane or plain ol' weed, I believed all those ominous voices when they warned me that marijuana could cause everything from brain damage to a craving for stronger drugs (i.e., the "gateway" theory.) And so as I got older, I just kept repeating the same marijuana mantras to others, convinced that I was right. "Marijuana is dangerous," I told others. "Only brain dead stoners use it."
Someone once said to me, "the further you get away from the facts, the easier they can turn into a myth." Boy, is that the truth. It all started three years ago when I decided to finally research marijuana. If anything, I was determined to prove to myself and others that my concerns were valid. Living in Colorado where medical marijuana was legal to possess and grow once you qualified for a "red card", I was surrounded by "pot shops." Thanks to Amendment 20 in our State Constitution, these dispensaries grew and flourished faster than it takes a medical marijuana bud to mature. In Denver County alone, there are around 400 medical marijuana dispensaries, outnumbering the 375 Starbucks statewide. I freely admit that I mocked these businesses and rolled my eyes at the people who frequented them. So, on that summer day nearly three years ago, I decided to dig into this controversial plant and arm myself with even more information that would support my anti-marijuana stance.
But a strange thing kept happening. The more I dug into what some opponents refer to as "the green menace," the more I continued to find research studies I wasn't aware existed. Some of these studies had been buried -- perhaps purposely -- and made scientific claims about Cannabis Indica and Cannabis Sativa that I found almost too good to be true. For example, I read a 1974 study(published in 1975) that was conducted at Virginia Commonwealth University that proved that the cannabinoids in the cannabis plant shrunk cancerous tumors and killed cancer cells, leaving healthy cells alone. Even though it was there in black and white, I still didn't buy it. So I kept investigating. I found that when I used the Internet search terms "cannabis+indica+healing+benefits," I got a whooping 220,000 websites. When I added the word "medical" to that group of words, the field increased to 452,000.
For the next six months, I spent every spare moment researching "the Devil Weed." Putting it bluntly, I was shocked. There was absolutely nothing "devilish" about it. All this remarkable information had been out there, waiting to be discovered and all I had to do was agree to view it with an open mind. I learned that Cannabis Indica had been compounded into liquid extracts in the late 1800's and up until the early 1900's. These extracts were recommended by medical doctors to alleviate everything from teething pain in infants to reducing the pain of arthritis and menstrual cramps.
I found out that contrary to what I'd been told, nobody has ever died from using marijuana in the thousands of years this plant has been available. In fact, I had no idea that its medical use dated back to around 2700 B.C. and was called a "superior" herb by the Emperor Shen-Nung (2737-2697 B.C.). I discovered that while I had been demonizing marijuana, thousands of people worldwide had been quietly and effectively curing or relieving a multitude of health problems, including Crohn's disease, migraine headaches, chronic depression, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), insomnia, dementia, epileptic seizures, Parkinson's disease and even AIDS. The more I researched and talked to pro-cannabis physicians, patients, researchers and historians who studied the plant, the more I heard incredible testimonials of recovery from illnesses and mental imbalances in addition to, as one patient told me, "just a better outlook on life."
And that's when I uncovered information that really challenged the stories I'd been told. People were using this "weed" to get off of opiates, alcohol, tobacco, heroin, cocaine and other powerful drugs. Thus, it was gaining traction as "an exit drug," instead of the "gateway drug." Seniors were also secretly using it to improve their cognition. Wait...what? How is that possible? Didn't marijuana make you a "brain-dead loser"? No, not according to the scientific data I discovered. The opposite was true as researchers found that the plant allowed neurogenesis in the brain -- the growth of new neural pathways, even when the brain had been damaged by age or trauma.
I understood that smoking the herb was the least effective way to gain the vast array of medical benefits from its use. I learned that doctors, lawyers, CEOs of major companies, accountants and other highly trained professionals used marijuana daily and felt it vastly improved their wellbeing and ability to handle stress. I found out that a respected medical doctor, Dr. William Courtney, encouraged patients with chronic illnesses to juice 10 to 20 fresh marijuana leaves daily. This concentrated green drink was not psychoactive and flooded the body with cannabinoid nutrients that helped reverse degenerative diseases.
Putting it mildly, the information was mind-boggling. And that's when I realized that there was a story to be told. Nobody had ever written a fictional novel about medical marijuana that didn't include "stoner" stereotypes or pander to fear. It took me another five months and hundreds of hours of one-on-one interviews with medical marijuana patients, caregivers, growers, dispensary owners and experts within the cannabis industry to develop what would become Betty's (Little Basement) Garden.
The book focuses on 58-year-old Betty Craven, a strikingly beautiful former Texas beauty queen who is a staunch Republican and widow to her equally conservative career military husband, Frank. Betty's only child, a son, died in his mid-20s from a drug overdose. When we meet Betty, her life is in suspended animation. The walls are closing in around her. All she has left that she loves is her award-winning flower garden and the remnants of equipment left over from her failed gourmet chocolate store. When she comes to the shocking conclusion that her entire life has been wasted, a rebellious spirit that Betty has kept hidden, explodes to the surface. Her conservative world spins 180 degrees around as she comes face-to-face with her biggest fears. And one of those fears is marijuana. The path she chooses is paved with secrecy, eccentric characters, toe-curling love, life-changing events, and a connection to her unconventional, basement garden that she never could have imagined.
My intention when I wrote Betty's (Little Basement) Garden was to show the truth about the medical marijuana industry in Colorado. It's not all sunshine and lollipops. I don't sugarcoat the realities of working in the cannabis world, nor do I romanticize what it means to be a grower for a seriously ill patient who depends upon your green thumb to make his or her medicine. The book illustrates a massive shift in the "anti-pot" propaganda that I grew up hearing and believing. My hope is that it's not just an entertaining story; my hope is that it's also enlightening for those who read it and believe the way I used to about this ancient herb. As Betty Craven says, "There's nothing more liberating than releasing a limiting belief."
To read or download an extensive, 840 page compilation of published medical studies that show the proactive use of cannabis in various forms, please click on this link.
Medical Uses of Marijuana Part 1
Medical Uses of Cannabis and THC
Nausea and Vomiting
Anorexia and Cachexia
Dependency and Withdrawal
Autoimmune Diseases and Inflammation
Miscellaneous, Mixed Syndromes
See clinical studies and case reports:Click here
There are marked differences in the knowledge on the medical uses of cannabis and cannabinoids in different diseases. For nausea and vomiting associated with cancer chemotherapy, anorexia and cachexia in HIV/AIDS, chronic, especially neuropathic pain, spasticity in multiple sclerosis and spinal cord injury there is strong evidence for medical benefits. For many other indications, such as epilepsy, pruritus and depression there is much less available data. However, the scientific evidence for a specific indication does not necessarily reflect the actual therapeutic potential for a given disease.
Clinical studies with single cannabinoids or whole plant preparations (smoked cannabis, cannabis extract) have often been inspired by positive anecdotal experiences of patients employing crude cannabis products. The anti-emetic, the appetite enhancing, relaxing effects, analgesia, and therapeutic use in Tourette's syndrome were all discovered in this manner.
Incidental observations have also revealed therapeutically useful effects. This occurred in a study with patients with Alzheimer's disease wherein the primary issue was an examination of the appetite-stimulating effects of THC. Not only appetite and body weight increased, but disturbed behaviour among the patients also decreased. The discovery of decreased intraocular pressure with THC administration in the beginning of the 1970s was also serendipitous. Additional interesting indications that have not been scientifically investigated, but remain common problems in modern medicine may benefit from treatment with cannabis or cannabinoids. For this reason, surveys have been conducted questioning individuals that use cannabis therapeutically. They were conducted either as oral non-standardized interviews in the course of investigations of state or scientific institutions (House of Lords Select Committee on Science and Technology in the UK, Institute of Medicine in the USA) on the therapeutic potential of cannabis or as anonymous surveys using standardized questionnaires.
Nausea and Vomiting
Treatment of side effects associated with antineoplastic therapy is the indication for cannabinoids which has been most documented, with about 40 studies (THC, nabilone, other THC analogues, cannabis). Most trials were conducted in the 1980s. THC has to be dosed relatively highly, so that resultant side effects may occur comparatively frequently. THC was inferior to high-dose metoclopramide in one study. There are no comparisons of THC to the modern serotonin antagonists. Some recent investigations have shown that THC in low doses improves the efficacy of other antiemetic drugs if given together. In folk medicine cannabinoids are popular and are often used in other causes of nausea including AIDS and hepatitis.
Anorexia and Cachexia
An appetite enhancing effect of THC is observed with daily divided doses totalling 5 mg. When required, the daily dose may be increased to 20 mg. In a long-term study of 94 AIDS patients, the appetite-stimulating effect of THC continued for months, confirming the appetite enhancement noted in a shorter 6 week study. THC doubled appetite on a visual analogue scale in comparison to placebo. Patients tended to retain a stable body weight over the course of seven months. A positive influence on body weight was also reported in 15 patients with Alzheimer's disease who were previously refusing food.
In many clinical trials of THC, nabilone and cannabis, a beneficial effect on spasticity caused by multiple sclerosis or spinal cord injury has been observed. Among other positively influenced symptoms were pain, paraesthesia, tremor and ataxia. In some studies improved bladder control was observed. There is also some anecdotal evidence of a benefit of cannabis in spasticity due to lesions of the brain.
There are some positive anecdotal reports of therapeutic response to cannabis in Tourette's syndrome, dystonia and tardive dyskinesia. The use in Tourette's syndrome is currently being investigated in clinical studies. Many patients achieve a modest improvement, however some show a considerable response or even complete symptom control. In some MS patients, benefits on ataxia and reduction of tremor have been observed following the administration of THC. Despite occasional positive reports, no objective success has been found in parkinsonism or Huntington disease. However, cannabis products may prove useful in levodopa-induced dyskinesia in Parkinson disease without worsening the primary symptoms.
Large clinical studies have proven analgesic properties of cannabis products. Among possible indications are neuropathic pain due to multiple sclerosis, damage of the brachial plexus and HIV infection, pain in rheumatoid arthritis, cancer pain, headache, menstrual pain, chronic bowel inflammation and neuralgias. Combination with opioids is possible.
In 1971, during a systematic investigation of its effects in healthy cannabis users, it was observed that cannabis reduces intraocular pressure. In the following 12 years a number of studies in healthy individuals and glaucoma patients with cannabis and several natural and synthetic cannabinoids were conducted. cannabis decreases intraocular pressure by an average 25-30%, occasionally up to 50%. Some non-psychotropic cannabinoids, and to a lesser extent, some non-cannabinoid constituents of the hemp plant also decrease intraocular pressure.
The use in epilepsy is among its historically oldest indications of cannabis. Animal experiments provide evidence of the antiepileptic effects of some cannabinoids. The anticonvulsant activity of phenytoin and diazepam have been potentiated by THC. According to a few case reports from the 20th century, some epileptic patients continue to utililize cannabis to control an otherwise unmanageable seizure disorder. Cannabis use may occasionally precipitate convulsions.
Experiments examining the anti-asthmatic effect of THC or cannabis date mainly from the 1970s, and are all acute studies. The effects of a cannabis cigarette (2% THC) or oral THC (15 mg), respectively, approximately correspond to those obtained with therapeutic doses of common bronchodilator drugs (salbutamol, isoprenaline). Since inhalation of cannabis products may irritate the mucous membranes, oral administration or another alternative delivery system would be preferable. Very few patients developed bronchoconstriction after inhalation of THC.
Dependency and Withdrawal
According to historical and modern case reports cannabis is a good remedy to combat withdrawal in dependency on benzodiazepines, opiates and alcohol. For this reason, some have referred to it as a gateway drug back. In this context, both the reduction of physical withdrawal symptoms and stress connected with discontinuance of drug abuse may play a role in its observed benefits.
An improvement of mood in reactive depression has been observed in several clinical studies with THC. There are additional case reports claiming benefit of cannabinoids in other psychiatric symptoms and diseases, such as sleep disorders, anxiety disorders, bipolar disorders, and dysthymia. Various authors have expressed different viewpoints concerning psychiatric syndromes and cannabis. While some emphasize the problems caused by cannabis, others promote the therapeutic possibilities. Quite possibly cannabis products may be either beneficial or harmful, depending on the particular case. The attending physician and the patient should be open to a critical examination of the topic, and a frankness to both possibilities.
Autoimmune Diseases and Inflammation
In a number of painful syndromes secondary to inflammatory processes (e.g. ulcerative colitis, arthritis), cannabis products may act not only as analgesics but also demonstrate anti-inflammatory potential. For example, some patients employing cannabis report a decrease in their need for steroidal and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. Moreover there are some reports of positive effects of cannabis self-medication in allergic conditions. It is as yet unclear whether cannabis products may have a relevant effects on causative processes of autoimmune diseases.
Miscellaneous, Mixed Syndromes
There are a number of positive patient reports on medical conditions that cannot be easily assigned to the above categories, such as pruritus, hiccup, ADS (attention deficit syndrome), high blood pressure, tinnitus, chronic fatigue syndrome, restless leg syndrome, and others. Several hundreds possible indications for cannabis and THC have been described by different authors. For example, 2,5 to 5 mg THC were effective in three patients with pruritus due to liver diseases. Another example is the successful treatment of a chronic hiccup that developed after a surgery. No medication was effective, but smoking of a cannabis cigarette completely abolished the symptoms.
Cannabis products often show very good effects in diseases with multiple symptoms that encompassed within the spectrum of THC effects, for example, in painful conditions that have an inflammatory origin (e.g., arthritis), or are accompanied by increased muscle tone (e.g., menstrual cramps, spinal cord injury), or in diseases with nausea and anorexia accompanied by pain, anxiety and depression, respectively (e.g. AIDS, cancer, hepatitis C).
Medical Uses of Marijuana Part 2