By Robert Love
For five thousand years, people have been using marijuana to treat. sickness of the body and mind. In the interest of health, pot has been inhaled, ingested, mixed in drink, and applied to the body for reasons that by and large have proven to be medically sound.
Prior to its widespread recreational use in modern dines, pot served primarily as one of the oldest and roost effective horse remedies known to man. In ancient time on several continents, cannabis came to be as popular and as accepted as aspirin is today.
References to cannabis as a curative and palliative for a myriad of physical woes can be found in ancient religious end historical literature. A Chinese pharmacological treatise believed to be the earliest citing of pot as a medicine, dates back to 2737 B.C. The treatise advocates grass for beriberi, constipation, “women’s weakness,” and other assorted ills.
In Indian history, the Atharva Veda written before 1,000 B.C., of fete praise of and approval for the medical application.; of pore Greek writers mention pot as a cure for ids of the psyche, and ancient Egyptian literature recommends cannabis extract as is soothing eye wash. Hindu mythology pictures marijuana.at a gift from the gods to refresh acid-sustain the user.
Dr. Robert P. Watson, an American doctor and marijuana expert who has assembled these and other historical references, avers that pot has been used since the beginning of recorded history and perhaps earlier Shari that.
The first appearance of marijuana in Western culture is generally believed have been during die Middle Ages, when records show it eras used to treat burns, earaches, ulcers and uterine diseases. But recently, an urn containing marijuana leaves which experts say is 2500 years old was unearthed near Berlin.
Formal investigation into marijuana’s effects began in 1839, when Dr. W. B. O’Shaughnessy reviewed 900 years of its application in Indian medicine. The British doctor then conducted his own experiments and found pot to be effective as a pain reliever, sedative, anticonvulsant and muscle relaxer.
In the following years, marijuana achieved great popularity in Western medicine and was prescribed for an incredible variety of ailments, including gynecological and menstrual problems, migraine headaches, tetanus infection, insomnia, and opium withdrawal, as well as tremens, spasms, coughs, anxiety, cramps, and many other bodily dysfunctions.
Pot’s popularity waned somewhat in the 19th century, with the introduction of synthetic drugs which were easier to obtain and control. The difficulties of standardizing dosage, a problem that was to plague marijuana research until the last decade, caused many doctors to abandon pot in favor of newer drugs that were potentially more harmful and toxic.
A large segment of the medical community still prescribed the various forms of cannabis, and leading drug firms and pharmacies still distributed it, late into the 20th century. In 1937, the year cannabis was banned under the Marijuana Tax Act, at least 28 pharmaceuticals products containing pot were sailing on the U.S market, says Edward M. Brecher, author of Licit and Illicit Drugs.
During the early years of marijuana prohibition, sporadic attempts were made to study the effects of the drug with the aid of modern technology. In 1947, according to a government study, the high producing agent tetrahydrocannabinol (better known as THC) was found to be an effective anticonvulsant. Two years later, THC proved successful in controlling epileptic seizures in children who did not respond to conventional drug therapy.
Today, the number of quality of marijuana studies by the medical profession continues to grow and improve. In 1947, more than 35 independent clinical and preclinical studies concerning the therapeutic aspects of cannabis compounds were in progress, according to government statistics.
The cause of this renewed interest in pot can be traced to advances in medical technology, in chemistry, and-perhaps most important of all-to the wildfire growth of pot as a recreational (albeit underground) drug.
Within the last ten years, THC has been synthesized in the laboratory, standardized weed has been made available from the National Institute of Drug Abuse, and testing procedures for detecting the presence of THC in the body have been further refined.
One of the most recent studies on the beneficial effects of pot was published in the New England Journal of Medicine, a highly regarded medical publication, in October, 1975. Three doctors from various health facilities in Boston determined that THC decreases the nausea and vomiting that accompany anti-cancer chemotherapeutic drugs. The doctors had heard “anecdotal reports” from cancer patients that getting high before they received the anti-tumor drugs stopped them from getting sick to their stomachs as they usually did. To investigate these reports, the physicians conducted a tightly-controlled, “double blind” experiment (in which patients are not aware of the nature of the substances given them). All subjects also received the cancer drugs.
In 14 of the 20 subjects treated with THC, a “significant” reduction in the nausea symptoms over the four-day period was reported. More important, none of the patients vomited while experiencing a high. The researchers explained that better results might have been achieved if dosages had been regulated to maintain the subjects’ high throughout the experiment. The patients who die get sick experienced nausea only after the THC-induced high had worn off.
Synthetic THC was used in this experiment mainly to insure proper control of dosage uniformity. Later the doctors repeated the experiment informally using the patients’ own grass, letting them maintain their high throughout the testing. They found “identical effects compared to THC.”
Upon examination of both methods of getting THC into the blood, the doctors favored smoking over the oral route. Since keeping the subject mildly but constantly stoned seems to be a decisive factor in the success here, smoking is preferred, they say, because it allows the patient better control over his high.
The role of pot as an antiemetic should receive further attention and perhaps be incorporated into -medical practice because traditionally-used drugs often have little or no effects on many patients. Also, the side effects of cancer drugs, now as “emisis” in medical terminology, sound benign enough to us, but in reality are unpleasant enough to cause some patients to forego life-saving therapy because of them.
Further research aimed at finding objective indices to monitor the level of patient’s high-such as fluctuations in heart rate and adjustment of dosage for body weight-has produced promising results.
Several other groups of researchers have recently re-examined the pain-relieving or analgesic effects of pot. As early as 1984, the Indian Hemp Drugs Commission Report, an extensive and comprehensive survey of pot effects, stated that marijuana has been sued effectively as a pain reliever among native Indians for hundreds of years. In 1974 two studies u to sing animals came to similar conclusions when they found an increased pain threshold, an important factor in pain perception, in the subjects. Dogs and rats respectively were able to tolerate higher levels of electronic stimulation when given THC. According to a Department of Health, Education and Welfare report to Congress, in this study, “the pain threshold increased fourfold and definite analgesia was obtained.”
Contrasting information was obtained in studies on human subjects which indicated that pain threshold decreased when subjects were subjected to similar electronic stimuli. Pain threshold, however, is not the only factor in perception of pain, and numerous other experiments confirm that pot has some use as an analgesic.
Pot’s anticonvulsant properties have also received more attention recently. Early studies on children suffering from grand mal epileptic seizures concluded that THC-like compounds worked as well as, or better than, conventional drugs like phenobarbital. Preclinical studies performed in 1973 to observe the effect of THC on animals confirmed earlier reports: certain components of cannabis can decrease susceptibility and sometimes block epileptic seizures. Although the 1973 tests were of a preclinical nature, i.e., not performed on humans, further investigation of pot as an alternative to and possible replacement for barbiturates is certainly in order.
The sedative effect of pot is well known to both users and observes of those under the influence. Because cannabis tends to relax most people, most potheads tend not to be insomniacs. Investigation into the possible role of marijuana as a sleep aid have produced favorable results. Tests conducted in 1973 by Drs. Cousens and Dimascio examined the effects of THC on nine mild insomniacs. The result showed that THC effectively decreased the time it took for the subjects to fall asleep.
In 1974, however, a team of researchers lead by F. R. Freemon demonstrated that THC-induced sleep contained shorter periods of rapid eye movement (REM), the sleep stage when dreaming occurs. The role of REM periods in sleep is not yet fully understood, but most experts think that they are necessary for restful sleep.
Although the Freemon study usefulness of pot as a sleep aid, the findings here are only preliminary, and further investigation is necessary even to confirm these findings. New facts could someday make pot as successful for mother Nature as Valium has been for the American pharmaceuticals industry.
Combined with sedative hypnotic drugs currently used as sleeping pills, pot reportedly decreases the dosage necessary and increases the sleeping time of the drugs. These findings are vitally important because most sleeping pills have high toxicity levels, making lethal overdose a significant risk. Pot, on the other hand, has a very low toxicity level9nobody has ever died from an overdose) and can lower the dosage of sleeping pills needed without sacrificing results when used in combination.
Another combination that has been receiving some attention is pot and anesthesia. Used with common anesthetics, cannabis also lowers effective dosage, while still eliminating pain and bypassing a dangerous side effect of most anesthetics-decreased respiratory rate. Researchers feel that if the results obtained in three separate 1973 studies can be confirmed marijuana will become a standard addition to proven anesthesia techniques.
While testing for anesthetic effects, researchers also found that marijuana consistently functions as a bronchodilator-opening up and decreasing resistance in the body’s air passageways. Tashikin and his associates at UCLA confirmed that pot does open up bronchial tubes as well as the best anti-asthmatic drugs on the market.
The next logical step would be to test pot on asthma sufferers, and that is what a UCLA group did. By having subjects perform exercise, spasms were produced and then quickly corrected with the help of a joint containing 2% THC. It worked, the researchers said, as well as other standard drugs used for this purpose, Moreover, pot increased the diameter of the of the bronchial tubes in a very different and seemingly safer way than do some widely-used anti-asthma drugs. Again, both researchers and government agencies reviewing the studies called for further investigation and more information.
Ironically, marijuana cigarettes as an asthma remedy were produced in this country as late as the beginning of the twentieth century. Manufactured by Grimault and Sons in the early 1900’s joints were sold in drugstores and pharmacies throughout the U.S., according to Richard Lance Christie, noted pot researcher and author of a recent widely-read article on marijuana and health. Perhaps this explains the popularity of the old-time drugstore.
Also at UCLA, research exploring the possible use of pot for treating glaucoma patients has been going on since 1971. A researcher named Hepler and his associates found that pressure inside the eye dropped significantly just minutes after subject smoked pot, and stayed down for hours. This decrease in “intraocular pressure” is necessary to control glaucoma. Left unchecked, the disease can lead to blindness. According to the HEW reports, Hepler has started a program for glaucoma patients, especially those who have not responded to other treatment. In addition, he is conducting animal experiments, attempting to determine the role of grass in doing just the opposite – increasing intraocular pressure.
Marijuana’s anti-depressant properties were documented in 1857 by a Frenchman named J. Moreau de Tours. He recommended its use to the treatment of melancholia, depression, and other psychiatric disorders. Since then pot has been well-documented as a mood elevator because of its obvious euphoric effects.
Marijuana also possess antibiotic properties, as the ancient Chinese recognized. A Czech study reports that a cannabinoid found in the freshly cut plant is effective in controlling the germs that are known to cause typhoid, tuberculosis, and other virus diseases under laboratory conditions. Cannabidiolic acid, the antibiotic component of pot, is unfortunately unstable in the human blood stream, where it oxidizes too quickly to be of significant value in fighting stubborn diseases. Attempts have been made to stabilize cannbidiolic acid synthetically, but so far have not proven successful. It does work well though, the Czechs say, as a topical skin preparation because of its antibiotic and anesthetic properties. Results have been promising in treating urinary tract and ear canal infections.
Historically, marijuana has had a reputation, especially in Indian literature. While modern testing procedures have not found a chemical basis for this assumption, it seems clear that, like alcohol, pot is a liberator of the libido by loosening up potential lovers and sharpening a sense of sensuality.
Recently, a government funded research study exploring the effects of pornographic films on young male pot smokers elicited scorn and verbal abuse from Senator William Proxmire (D-Wisc.). Apparently, the Senator was displeased with the idea of government funds being used to find out whether males who smoke a lot of pot can still get it up.
Actually, the question on the minds of the researches in this case probably originated with reports of reduced testosterone levels in the blood samples taken from males classified as “chronic” users.
A 1974 study by Doctors Rebert Kolodny and Gelson Toro, in conjunction with Dr. William H. Masters of the sex research team, found that heavy pot smoking can cause reduced blood levels of the male hormone testosterone. While the preliminary findings were appearing the newspapers from coast to coast, another team of scientists sought to duplicate the Kolodny study over a four day period. After making sure that the subjects were not taking other drugs that could affect the outcome of the experiment, they gave 50 milligrams of THC to each patient and then measured blood levels. Their findings showed “no abnormally low” testosterone levels in any of the participants.
The findings of the Kolodny study understandably caused some apprehension among the male smoking population; but several months later, the Kolodny team used new-and reassuring-information. The effect of marijuana on testosterone levels is only temporary, and can be reversed by several days of abstention.
To counteract present and past misconceptions about marijuana, the scientific community must be allowed to pursue the threads of evidence that often originate in preclinical studies and anecdotal reports. The search for sound, unbiased information should be top priority in removing the social stigma that the twentieth century has placed on pot. To date, it has been cleared of any dangerous or permanent ill effects. The recent Jamaican study, which has been a continuous survey of the long-term effects of very heavy use has failed to turn up significant damage in long-term users. Based on the multitude of possibilities cannabis presents to medicine, the task will bear substantial rewards. Compared to many drugs currently in use, cannabis is frequently a safer, more effective alternative.
Pot-despite all the evidence as to its benefits-is still classified in many states as a dangerous drug, and is outlawed in all. Similarly, there is no legal therapeutic use of pot in the U.S. today, except for experimental purposes.
The point is this: the medical community, should have the option of prescribing pot whenever they deem it necessary or beneficial to the patient. We should have the choice.