In part 3 of his Brief History of Weed series, Henry Vespa prescribes a diagnosis of marijuana’s health benefits…

So, enough history. Right here and now as the year 2014 draws to a close, the U.S. has 14 states out of 50 in which possession and use of cannabis has been decriminalized, and four in which recreational use is outright legal. And all this in spite of the efforts of organizations like the Senator Kennedy-endorsed Community Anti-Drug Coalition of America (or CADCA). Yay for progress!

If you want an informative, entertaining and recent rundown of the legalized marijuana industry, take a look at a couple of BaDoink articles by Ivor Irwin and Erskine Benjamin Hill. But as Denver, Colorado seeks to become the Amsterdam of the Americas, the other big question is ‘medical marijuana’; i.e. should you be able to get it on prescription (now possible, by the way, in 23 states and counting…)

For those of you who think a medical use for marijuana is something new, think again… Back in the 1800s, the Grimault company of Paris manufactured cannabis indica cigarettes (called “Indiennes”) for sale over the counter. Rather than tobacco, the weed was mixed with leaves of deadly nightshade. Grimault’s ‘doobies’ were advertised in prestigious publications such as London’s Medical Times and Gazette, which recommended them for asthma, bronchitis epilepsy, neuralgia, hysteria, and “congestion of the head, heart, or lungs.” When I had asthma as a kid, all I got was a Ventolin inhaler – talk about being born in the wrong era! But where this gets really interesting is that in a 1962 United Nations Bulletin on Narcotics, the “Indian Cigarettes of Grimault” are specifically named as being exempt from control. Maybe these cigarettes are still legal under International Treaty Law today. Hmmm!

Anyway, users (and many doctors) have long known about the palliative effects of a joint but the ‘drug’ label has put up a lot of barriers over the years and it’s only recently that we’re starting to see some serious research and medical trials. But what the limited research and anecdotal evidence suggests is that a little THC (tetrahydrocannabinol – the active ingredient in the weed) can be good for seizures, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, cancer pain, rheumatoid arthritis, Parkinson’s, fibromyalgia, and reduces the nausea that comes with chemotherapy or HIV medications.

But the stigma remains and in the States at least, the ‘official’ expert opinions have been confused and contradictory over the last few years. The American Society of Addiction Medicine is definitely against, stating that there can be no medical application possible (when so-called scientists make definitive, ‘and-that’s-final’ statements, I get an image of a flat earth, I don’t know why…) The American College of Physicians has supported the idea of researching therapeutic applications. And the American Medical Association seems to vacillate between urging the reclassification of cannabis while simultaneously opposing legalization (the AMA’s latest position is so wish-washy that either side of the debate could claim their support). In the meantime, despite a continuing federal ban, there are 23 states merrily dispensing buds, seeds, concentrated oils, and even cannabis-infused pretzels, caramel corn and peanut butter. Legislation, political opinion and scientific research all need to catch, and fast.

Still, before we get too excited, consider the downside. Once marijuana is widely and legally available on prescription, that will inevitably put the whole thing in the hands of the Big Pharma companies. Before you know it, Glaxo, Pfizer and the like will be competing for the rights, Monsanto will be bio-engineering new strains of weed that give a higher yield in less time (and probably somehow also kills all the bees), the tobacco companies will shift production to ready-rolled spliffs, and here we are again, suckling at yet another teat of Big Business.

It’s a depressing picture. A bit of a bummer, in fact. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. You might as well light up and forget about it.

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