By Amanda Reiman, Drug Policy Alliance
In this week's "hypocrisy news," the federal government continues to deny the medical value of cannabis even in light of contrary claims by its own agency, the National Institute of Health.
According to an article on NBC News.com, the Advocates for the Disabled and Seriously Ill (ADSI) took issue with the fact that in a National Cancer Institute (NCI) report, cannabis is hailed as a medicine that "inhibited the survival of both estrogen receptor-positive and estrogen receptor-negative breast cancer cell lines, and may provide risk reduction and treatment of colorectal cancer." Further, the report states that cannabis does not cause lung cancer, and might have a protective effect against its formation.
The hypocrisy is in the fact that the NCI is part of the National Institute of Health, an agency of the federal government - the same government that claims cannabis has no accepted medical use. Apparently curing cancer does not fit the definition of "medical."
This is not the first time we have heard claims of the anti-cancer effects of cannabis. In 2006, Dr. Donald Tashkin at UCLA conducted a study to determine if there was a link between lung cancer and cannabis. Even Tashkin was surprised by the outcome stating, "we hypothesized that there would be a positive association between marijuana use and lung cancer, and that the association would be more positive with heavier use. What we found instead was no association at all, and even a suggestion of some protective effect."
But there's more.
In the mid 1990's, Cristina Sanchez, a scientist in Madrid found that THC, one of the active ingredients in cannabis kills brain cancer cells. This effect was replicated by Manuel Guzman and his team of researchers in Spain in the mid 2000's. Guzman administered THC via catheter to nine patients with brain cancer who had been resistant to other medications. Tumor growth was reduced in every single subject. Guzman published his study in the British Journal of Pharmacology in 2006.
Also in the mid 2000's, scientists from Harvard found that administering THC slowed the growth of lung cancer cells. The Harvard study made the important discovery that cannabis can kill the affected cells while leaving healthy cells alone, something that makes chemotherapy take such a toll on the body.
So, why would our government, in light of scientific evidence that cannabis kills cancer cells continue their party line of "no medical value?" Is it to save face? To not have to admit how wrong they are?
Last night, I gave a talk about medical cannabis at the Women's Cancer Resource Center in Oakland, CA. The room was packed with women (and some of their husbands) who have (or had) cancer. These women are brave, they are fighters and they would do anything in their power to take back control of their health. All they want is a level playing field.
When I told them about the ADSI article, the NCI report and the research, they were angry. They wanted to know why their government had been keeping this from them and their doctors. They wanted to know why they were steered towards chemotherapy and prescription pills that took away any quality of life they had.
They were angry, but then they become hopeful. They live in California, and cannabis is available to them. They felt empowered when we spoke of going to a dispensary and making choices about their health and their treatment. They lamented their sisters in non-medical cannabis states who were still in the dark and considered criminals.
Most of all, they just asked why? Why would our government deny this information to the millions of people who could be helped by it?
I wish I had an answer for them, but, I didn't, and I'm not the one who needs to answer to them, their government does.