CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta finds ample evidence of benefits of medical marijuana

August 16, 2013 

Cathy Jordan smiles at her husband, Robert, through a cloud of marijuana smoke as she smokes a marijuana cigarette. The Jordans want to legalize medical marijuana for people like Cathy, who suffers from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, better known as Lou Gehrig's disease. The Parrish couple say Cathy's symptoms are greatly reduced by smoking pot.TIFFANY TOMPKINS-CONDIE/Bradenton Herald

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Advocates of the legalization of marijuana for medical purposes gained an influential ally and a powerful message this week with the airing of Dr. Sanjay Gupta's groundbreaking documentary "Weed."

Gupta, a neurosurgeon and CNN's chief medical correspondent, once took a hard line against medicinal cannabis -- prominently articulating his position in a 2009 Time magazine article titled "Why I would Vote No to Pot."

Today, though, after thoroughly researching the issue for a year while working on his documentary, he now apologizes for that stance, stating in a "Why I changed my mind on weed" essay posted on CNN's website:

"... I was too dismissive of the loud chorus of patients whose symptoms improved on cannabis.

"Instead, I lumped them with the high-visibility malingerers just looking to get high."

Ammo for Parrish couple

Parrish's Kathy Jordan can now cite Gupta's research in her lobbying efforts for passage of the Cathy Jordan Medical Cannabis Bill. Her 16-year struggle to change Florida law once again did not gain traction during this year's session of the Legislature.

In a different and new bid to legalize medical marijuana, petitions are circulating for a constitutional amendment to be placed on the 2014 ballot. Jordan and husband Robert have been collecting signatures.

A poll earlier this year found 70 percent of Floridians support such an amendment, surpassing the 60 percent benchmark required for passage.

Meanwhile, Jordan, president of the Florida Cannabis Action Network, can take heart in Gupta's startling conclusions.

His reversal only came about after he interviewed medical leaders, experts, growers and patients as well as reviewing the scientific literature on medical cannabis.

DEA wrong on two counts

"I mistakenly believed the Drug Enforcement Agency listed marijuana as a schedule 1 substance because of sound scientific proof. Surely, they must have quality reasoning as to why marijuana is in the category of the most dangerous drugs that have 'no accepted medicinal use and a high potential for abuse.'

"They didn't have the science to support that claim, and I now know that when it comes to marijuana neither of those things are true. It doesn't have a high potential for abuse, and there are very legitimate medical applications. In fact, sometimes marijuana is the only thing that works."

Florida proof of pot's value

Kathy Jordan is living proof of that last statement.

Diagnosed 27 years ago with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, an incurable condition commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease, Jordan found little relief from her symptoms with a host of traditional medications.

Then three years after her diagnosis, she discovered that marijuana eased her pain, stimulated her appetite and helped other symptoms.

Reviewing the research

Gupta examined the research on cannabis, discovering that hundreds of journal articles on the benefits were written between 1840 and 1930.

"Keep in mind that up until 1943, marijuana was part of the United States drug pharmacopeia. One of the conditions for which it was prescribed was neuropathic pain," he states.

Powerful narcotics such as morphine and oxycodone are prescribed for this "miserable pain," Gupta notes, but don't work well.

As Florida well knows from prescription drug abuse and addiction, those drugs can lead to accidental overdoses and death.

Yet "marijuana has long been documented to be effective for this awful pain," the neurosurgeon writes.

U.S. drug policy fails

Gupta calculated that only 6 percent of current U.S. studies into cannabis examine its medical benefits while the remainder look into its harm, blaming this on national drug policy.

Considering the history of medical marijuana, isn't that upside down?

"We have been terribly and systematically misled for nearly 70 years in the United States, and I apologize for my own role in that," Gupta writes in the hopes that his essay and documentary will set the record straight.

If a comparatively benign drug like cannabis can replace powerful prescription pain medications in certain treatments, why would Florida deny patients this option?

Twenty states and the District of Columbia allow medical marijuana. Florida should join those ranks.

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