Dr. Says, "Pot Isn't Medicine"

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In an interesting editorial rebuttal published in the Topeka Capital-Journal, Doctor John Calbeck states plainly that marijuana isn’t medicine.

Dr. Calbeck comes with some authority behind his opinion. He’s the executive director of Shawnee Regional Prevention and Recovery Services – an addiction specialist. This flies in the face of a continuing push to legalize marijuana in more states on humanitarian and medical grounds.

Why isn’t it a medicine?

According to Dr. Calbeck, there simply isn’t enough of a research foundation to allow unrestricted marijuana use. He also points out the addictive potential, lack of FDA safety profile, no dosage standards and no approved delivery system.

He has a point. And it’s easy to see when we look at other plant materials now used as drugs in modern medicine. At one time, raw opium was smoked from the poppy plant – all-natural and self-dosed. It worked for pain relief and as a cough suppressant.

But we no longer allow this, partly because the opium poppy is highly addictive, and partly because scientists have extracted the active ingredients and turned them into a variety of different drugs, from morphine to codeine. Doing this allows for a more targeted dose and predictive effects, as well as the ability to control for the more addictive properties of this drug family.

A less controversial example comes from the willow tree. The bark was brewed up into a tea and used to treat headaches and minor pains. The active ingredient we now know as aspirin. No one thinks it’s better to hold off on aspirin and make willow bark tea.

What does this mean for marijuana?

We know what the active ingredients are. There’s no particular reason not to make extracts and package them. In fact, some medical marijuana patients, those who do not wish to smoke the plant, make their own extracts at home. And like the poppy, which is illegal to grow yourself, we can have the best of both worlds – a marketable product tested for safety while keeping the plant illegal.

This isn’t what marijuana advocates want; they want the freedom to grow and use marijuana as they see fit. But that’s a separate issue from using it as medicine. If it does have useful properties, and these actually do help patients, then we ought to exploit them. Just as we exploit the products of the poppy for pain relief and just as we exploit the properties of willow bark and several other plant products.

Dr. Calbeck has a point. Do the science. Make a product. Get it on the market. Then call it medicine.

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