marijuana the forbidden medicine

Marihuana, the Forbidden Medicine

Lester Grinspoon and James B. Bakalar

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A selection of the Nurse’s Book Society

“The authors of this remarkable book deserve great credit for documenting so persuasively the destruction of human lives that has resulted from the laws prohibiting the use of marihuana for any purpose. No one can read this book without feeling outraged at the inhumanity of which bureaucrats are capable in interpreting a bad law.”—Milton Friedman, Senior Research Fellow at the Hoover Institution

“This is a highly readable, well-documented, and thorough account of the many potential uses of marihuana in contemporary medicine, a must-read for all those interested in herbal medicine, natural health, and drug policy. How foolish we have been to deny ourselves the benefits of a plant that has alleviated so much suffering throughout history and is so much less toxic than many of the synthetic drugs doctors prescribe so readily!”—Andrew Weil, m.d., University or Arizona College of Medicine, Author of Health and Healing and Natural Health, Natural Medicine

“The public will be well served by reading this book.”—Stephen E. Sallan, m.d., Dana Farber Cancer Institute

“A powerful book about the medical uses of cannabis, in which [Grinspoon] recounts not only his own family’s experience (including the eventual death of his son) but that of more than 30 patients, who have found relief in marijuana.”—Annabel Ferriman, The Times

Marijuana: The Forbidden Medicine, . . . describes with impressive thoroughness the potential uses of the drug in relieving pain.”—Independent Magazine

“These accounts dramatically illustrate marihuana’s potential to alleviate suffering when traditionally prescribed medications have proved ineffective, but they also illustrate the great stress placed on these individuals and their families by using an illegal substance. . . . Recommended.”—Library Journal

“Grinspoon and Bakalar attempt to demonstrate that, in prohibiting marijuana, Western society is not only hypocritical, but is depriving itself of a valuable medicament. . . . clear, well written and accessible to the layman.”—A.M. Daniels, Times Literary Supplement

“Marihuana is not only useful as medicine, but far less toxic and harmful than alcohol when used for nonmedical purposes. Marihuana, The Forbidden Medicine provides convincing arguments for these views and will be a useful reference for drug abuse counselors, criminal defense attorneys, health workers, and others interested in the effects of this widely used substance.”—Eugene Schoenfeld, M.D., Whole Earth Review

“Grinspoon and Bakalar weave anecdotes about the medicinal uses of marihuana together with relevant supporting research findings into an eminently readable account. . . . The sheer range of useful effects recounted in the anecdotes [is] remarkable.”—Robert Gray, The Lancet

“Grinspoon and Bakalar have provided a valuable compendium of marijuana’s beneficial properties. . . . This book is valuable for its breadth of first-person accounts of beneficial effects of marijuana smoking in physically and emotionally distressed individuals.”—Rick J. Strassman, m.d., Journal of the American Medical Association

“In this new book, [Grinspoon & Bakalar] present a scholarly and lucid review of the use of marihuana in the treatment of a variety of medical problems. . . . A very important book. The authors have produced an eminently readable text that can be appreciated by an entire spectrum of readers, from persons first learning about the subject to experts and specialists seeking to bring their knowledge up-to-date. It is highly recommended reading for anyone interested in the history, biomedical science, and public policy surrounding these most amazing plants.”—David E. Presti, Ph.D. and Richard Evans Schultes, Ph.D., Journal of Psychoactive Drugs

“An authoritative discussion of the growing evidence that cannabis may have a number of important therapeutic applications. . . . This is a powerful book and deserves the attention of those who are interested in health perspectives of cannabis.”—Alex Wodak, Drug and Alcohol Review

“Cogent and convincing. . . . The authors present a compelling argument for unrestricted access to [the] therapeutic agents derived from marijuana. . . . This book provides an excellent overview of the subject from a medical perspective.”—Robert M. Swift, m.d., phd, New England Journal of Medicine

“For those who would deny medicinal marijuana to terminal cancer patients and glaucoma victims, Marijuana: The Forbidden Medicine ought to be required reading.—Andrew Oliver II, National Review

“An excellent account of the therapeutic benefits of marijuana use, the barriers that exist to prevent its pharmaceutical development, and it is also a call to reassess why certain drugs are ignored when they seem to present a therapeutic potential.”—International Journal of the Addictions

“Should leave readers furious at our government’s spectacularly duplicitous lawmaking, and with some luck, further the movement for change.”—Will Hermes, City Pages

“Grinspoon and Bakalar marshal the remarkably voluminous evidence on marijuana’s medical applications (and its widespread use) and on the policy decisions that keep it from being prescribed openly.”—Scientific American

“This is a very informative book that speaks to the positive uses of marihuana in a medical setting. It is recommended for private libraries as well as all other libraries.”—AIDS Book Review Journal

Marihuana, the Forbidden Medicine Lester Grinspoon and James B. Bakalar Amazon Barnes & Noble Bookshop IndieBound Indigo Powell’s Seminary Co-op Bookstores

Marijuana: Forbidden Medicine

Back in the 1970s, Dr. Lester Grinspoon, a professor at Harvard University Medical School, was in the process of writing a book about the dangers of marijuana, when his nine-year-old son came down with leukemia. The chemotherapy treatments made the boy so violently ill, his doctors feared that his convulsive vomiting would actually break ribs.

Before the next treatment, the boy’s mother got him to smoke a little marijuana, and when Dr. Grinspoon arrived to pick up his son, he heard laughter coming from the treatment room. Not only was the boy feeling fine, but he insisted on stopping on the way home to eat a huge submarine sandwich.

Dr. Grinspoon became an instant convert to the cause of medical marijuana and went on to write three books on the subject.

There are many such accounts about the effectiveness of marijuana in relieving symptoms for a broad range of medical conditions, from AIDS wasting syndrome, to MS pain, Crohn’s disease, glaucoma, and many others. And yet cannabis, as it’s also called, remains illegal in Canada, despite the fact that an estimated three million people use it recreationally.

Illegal, but no longer inaccessible. There are now two ways that patients can gain access to medical marijuana without running afoul of the law: compassion clubs and Health Canada permits. There are now 14 compassion clubs, scattered thinly between Halifax and Victoria, all non-profit, all operating with the cooperation of the police. Marijuana is sold in strictly limited quantities to patients who are certified by a medical or naturopathic doctor having a medical condition that responds to marijuana.

To get a Health Canada permit you are required to jump through many more hoops, which explains why only about 2000 have been issued since the program began in 1999, while one Vancouver compassion club alone has twice that many patients. Health Canada also issues permits for clients to grow their own marijuana, or for growers to supply patients, albeit under very strict limits.

There are several problems with the Health Canada program. It accepts certification only from medical doctors, and even requires them to specify dosage. This is nonsense, because MDs have no special training or expertise in medical marijuana (which the Canadian Medical Association acknowledges) and are subject to the same range of attitudes, pro and con, about the plant as the general population. If your MD does agree to certify you, he or she may also ask you to sign a liability release form.

Health Canada supplies marijuana to permit holders who don’t have their own sources, from a huge grow op run by contractors in an abandoned mine at Flin Flon, Manitoba. But users have complained about both the quality of the product and its price. Taking advantage of black market prices inflated by marijuana’s illegal status, Health Canada marks its own cannabis up about 1500 percent, putting it well beyond reach of many would-be patients.

One of the quirks of medical cannabis is its inconsistency. It may work wonderfully for one patient and not at all for another, even though they suffer from exactly the same medical condition. Bear this in mind if you are considering trying marijuana; in the short term, it will be much less trouble to get it from a compassion club than Health Canada.

Marijuana: Forbidden Medicine Back in the 1970s, Dr. Lester Grinspoon, a professor at Harvard University Medical School, was in the process of writing a book about the dangers of marijuana, when