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A San Francisco Chronicle reporter named Kevin Fagan called on Monday, July 12, to get some quotes. He explained his angle: NIDA and the prohibitionists cite studies showing that marijuana is harmful, while “the pot people” cite studies showing that it’s helpful.
“And you’re going to provide a fair and balanced overview,” I said. Fagan said yes, that was his goal -and wasn’t it a shame that Fox news had appropriated that slogan. Fagan said he had already talked to someone at NIDA and was due to talk to them again at length the next day. He’d heard I could tell him about the “pro-pot studies.”
So I told him about Donald Tashkin’s finding that smoking marijuana does not cause lung cancer. I called it “the greatest story never told” and promised to send O’Shaughnessy’s piece about Tashkin, a distinguished UCLA pulmonologist who is hardly “pro-pot.” (The piece first appeared in CounterPunch, BTW.) And I told him about Steven Sidney’s review of 65,000 Kaiser patients’ records showing that marijuana use does not cause lung cancer or increase mortality -another suppressed blockbuster. I told him about the data that Tom O’Connell and other California doctors had compiled about cannabis-using patients, and about the International Cannabinoid Research Society…
Given that the medical marijuana movement was a local story of national importance, I opined, the Chronicle’s coverage over the years had been meager and superficial. Fagan said they were on it now -he was one of four reporters assigned to cover Prop 19.
I emailed him my report on Tashkin’s findings along with some advice about how to pursue the story:
“When you’re talking to the NIDA rep tomorrow, why not ask about the decision not to feature Tashkin’s findings in NIDA Notes back in 2005? Who made that decision? Which editor(s)? Did they run it by director Nora Volkow? Tashkin’s findings are big news indeed on the science side. But who suppressed those findings is an equally big story (on the political side).”
Fagan’s piece ran on the front page Sunday July 12 under the headline, “Healthy or Harmful? Pot debate rages on.” More than twice as many column inches were devoted to the NIDA line than to studies showing beneficial effect. Neither Donald Tashkin nor Steven Sidney was mentioned. I was quoted saying that (Tashkin’s) photomicrographs of bronchial tissue damaged by cannabis smoke could scare the daylights out of you -but not quoted saying that (to Tashkin’s surprise) the damaged cells don’t metastasize, they die off; or that (Tashkin had concluded) the protective effects of cannabis more than make up for any collateral cellular damage.
The San Francisco Chronicle should not have to assign a reporter in July, 2010, to do a quick study on the state of the research on marijuana as medicine. The Chronicle should have been the paper of record all these years. And journalists should be fair, of course. But there’s nothing admirable about giving equal weight to the truth and to the lies in the name of “balance.”
The medical literature is increasingly replete with peer-reviewed studies establishing the benefits of cannabis-based products in treating various diseases. “Between 1975 and the present, at least 110 controlled clinical studies have been published, assessing well over 6,100 patients suffering from a wide range of illnesses,” according to an article by Arno Hazekamp and Franjo Grotenhermen,” in the new O’Shaughnessy’s. “The mechanisms of action are becoming increasingly clear since the discovery of the endocannabinoid system and its physiological functions.”
The issue also includes a piece by Martin Lee on the discovery of the endocannabinoid system; “A Novel Approach to the Systematic Treatment of Autism” by Lester Grinspoon, MD; “The Changing Nature of My Practice” by Christine Paoletti, MD; “On Issuing Cannabis Recommendations” by Stacey Kerr, MD; “The Inadvertent Inventor of ‘Spice'” (an interview with John W. Huffman); “Cannabidiol as a Treatment for Acne?” (interview with Tamas Biro); “A Gardener Walks into a Bookstore” by Jorge Cervantes; “A Call from Nebraska” by David West; “Prospects for Legalization in California” by Dale Gieringer; “Medicating with Edibles and Potables” by Joanna LaForce; “More a Medicine Than a Dope” by Louis Armstrong, “On Pot Pulp” by Michael Aldrich; and a piece by Michael Krawitz on efforts to get the VA to commit to a policy that allows cannabis use by veterans.
To get the 64-page print edition -all content, no jive- send $6 to p.o box 490, Alameda, CA 94501.
VA Does the Right Thing
O’Shaughnessy’s went to press just late enough to cite the July 6 letter to Krawitz from Robert. A. Petzel, MD, undersecretary for health in the Veterans Health Administration, stating: “If a Veteran obtains and uses medical marijuana in a manner consistent with state law, testing positive for marijuana would not preclude the Veteran from receiving opioids for pain management in a VA facility,” Petzel stated.
Krawitz and Martin Chilcutt of Veterans for Medical Marijuana Access deserve full credit for this meaningful reform. The New York Times broke the story July 24. “Those pain contracts in place in the Veterans Health Administration will need to be rewritten,” says Krawitz. “Those overzealous VA doctors will have to change their approach. A vet in Montana just told me he’s going to show the letter from Petzel to his doctor and say, ‘How can you deny me when this is the VA policy?'”
Krawitz is a disabled Air Force vet, a pro-cannabis organizer, and a civil libertarian. His story in O’Shaughnessy’s recounts his effort to get the VA to respect state law on cannabis use, which began in self-defense:
“As I was checking out of the clinic after a routine appointment at the Salem, Virginia VA hospital in 2004, I was handed a ‘pain contract’ by my doctor’s assistant and told to sign. I insisted on taking the documents with me so I could show them to my lawyer, as I would with any other contract. My lawyer advised that the document didn’t qualify as a contract because I wouldn’t get anything and only stood to lose by signing.
The so-called contract made a host of demands, such as requiring that I submit to illegal drug tests and never run out of medicine on a weekend. Many common problems that patients experience, such as the dose becoming insufficient to control the pain, are defined as violations that could result in “being reported to other authorities” and being denied necessary pain treatment. I flatly refused to sign. The doctor, much to my surprise, discontinued my pain medicine and said my prescription would be renewed when I signed the forms.”
FRED GARDNER can be reached at email@example.com