Jay Kuten: It's time for legal medical marijuana

By Jay Kuten -
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Jay Kuten
Jay Kuten

This column, urging the normalisation of medical marijuana, is dedicated to the memory of Dr Chris Cresswell

LIKE many readers, I attended the tangi/celebration of this man whose life was full, though far too short. My own meetings with him were few but meaningful, as he let me know of his passion for the provision of competent healthcare to the whole community, a vision I could share.

It was then at Moutoa Gardens/Pakaitore that I learned how deeply he had affected the entire community and how far that keen intelligence and warmth of spirit had reached across our cultural divisions, building bridges where there might have been walls. A striking effect, and a sign of the endurance of his efforts, has been the determination expressed by many to take up the causes he had championed or to find their own expression of personal and political activism, inspired by his life. This column represents one such determination.

Arguments in favour of medical marijuana are becoming increasingly clear and convincing. The weight of the clinical evidence supports its effectiveness in ameliorating symptoms of parkinsonism or the side-effects of chemotherapy for cancer. Its effectiveness in alleviating the pain of several chronic conditions has been particularly of note, especially lately. As of this writing, in the US, 28 states and the District of Columbia (Washington, DC) have legalised cannabis for medical purposes. In addition, eight states have legalised recreational cannabis.

The argument against medical cannabis is frequently couched in reasonably sounding words, like the need for further study to guard against harmful effect. But the studies have been done. There have been three major studies of cannabis, its potential for medicinal use, and its potential for harm. These are the 1894 Indian Hemp Study (http://bit.ly/2iYLXwo), the 1944 New York Academy of Sciences Study http://bit.ly/2jlYvdI, and the 1972 Shafer Commission Study http://bit.ly/2iwSSsU. The latter, commissioned by President Nixon, infuriated him because it found that cannabis was less dangerous than alcohol, his own drug of choice. All three studies came to similar conclusions: That the harmful potential effects are outweighed by the beneficial effects.

Opposition to medical cannabis does not come from scientific quarters but from political sources, which are subject to influence from many quarters including the citizens. Unfortunately, the history of that opposition is tinged with the profit-seeking of Big Pharma but also the racism of unequal application of the laws criminalising recreational use.

At this time, there is a rising consciousness in the US of what many are calling an opioid epidemic. Decades of physician overprescription of opioids for pain management lit the flames of a prairie fire whose most stark effects can be measured in deaths from so-called overdose. The rise in deaths from opioid overdose is not uniform across the states. The highest numbers are to be found in the rust belt of Michigan, Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Deaths from opiates have declined in Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington. These states have legalised recreational cannabis. It turns out that the claim that cannabis is a gateway drug is true, but exactly opposite to what is claimed: cannabis as pain medicine closes the gate to opioid overuse.

It's time to enact legislation that would have granted people like Helen Kelly relief from their pain without the cognitive clouding of opiates or its respiratory dangers. The politicians to lobby on this matter are Health Minister Dr Jonathan Coleman, and Associate Minister of Health Peter Dunne. Contact details are: jonathan.coleman@ parliament.govt.nz and peter.dunne@parliament.govt. nz, respectively. Please write and ask them to do the right thing, now.

You might let me know their response at jayku@yahoo.com as I'm planning to write further on cannabis and related subjects.

My activism here is in response to Chris Cresswell's life. Chris and I never discussed medical cannabis but I'm pretty sure he'd be on board and would be smiling down in the spirit of healing that was so much a part of him and say, "Go for it, mate!"

-- Jay Kuten is an American-trained forensic psychiatrist who emigrated to New Zealand for the fly fishing. He spent 40 years comforting the afflicted and intends to spend the rest afflicting the comfortable.

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