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Debate Smolders On Medical Marijuana

Smokin Moose

Fallen Cannabis Warrior
Co-Founder of Pro-Marijuana Group Travels Across New Jersey to Spread Information on Subject

The Coalition for Medical Marijuana.

Ten years ago, the sight of those words may have prompted a response of confusion, intrigue and maybe even snickers. Today they may still do so, but with the growth of the Internet, changing social attitudes and the visibility of the lucrative pain relief industry, interest in this uncommon pain relief treatment has been picking up.

And the support that the Coalition for Medical Marijuana New Jersey has been receiving is a testament to that, co-founder Ken Wolski said.

"People tend to agree with us," he said.

Wolski, a Lawrence resident and retired registered nurse, said he too was skeptical of medicinal marijuana, but one vacation in Europe had him think twice on the subject. While there, he met an American living in the Netherlands who had glaucoma. The American began using marijuana years ago to help save his eyesight, but the police found out. As a result, he was thrown in jail and lost his farm and home. After being released, he moved to Europe and began growing the plant freely, Wolski said.

"At first I didn't really believe this guy," Wolski said. "Something else must have been going on."

He couldn't believe the government would take such measures until he actually confirmed the details himself, he said.

Wolski was touched by the story and began to do his own research on medicinal uses for cannabis about 10 years ago. Around 2002, he met Jim Miller. They were actually both going around campaigning for the herb at the same time, but didn't know it.

Together they formed the CMMNJ, but it was Miller's wife, Cheryl, who was its heart and soul, Wolski said.

"It was a very inspiring time," he said. "She was a really remarkable woman."

Cheryl suffered from multiple sclerosis and was confined to a wheelchair. She was an active supporter of medicinal marijuana and an active user until she passed away in June of 2003. Some of the couple's feats included barging into the offices of political leaders and holding public demonstrations of medical marijuana use.

The main focus of the coalition is to educate and inform the public about medical marijuana, promote the study of the herb and to fight for laws enabling the use of the treatment to alleviate suffering, Wolski said.

"We're just proud of the fact that we're for the patients," he said. "Our main thing is to protect the patients."

The group meets on the first Tuesday of the month at the Mercer County Library Lawrence Branch on Darrah Lane.

In their efforts to educate the public, the group also campaigns for support from different medical groups. Their latest accomplishment involves the New Jersey State Nurses Association, who passed a resolution to recognize the value of medical marijuana and to support legal action.

Medical marijuana has been used for centuries as a natural pain reliever, Wolski said, and references to the plant appear in ancient medical books written by scholars. But, it was prohibited in the Unites States after 1937, when the Marihuana Tax Act was passed.

Diseases that can have symptoms treated with the use of the herb, according to medicinal marijuana supporters, include multiple sclerosis, cancer, AIDS, glaucoma, depression, epilepsy, migraine headaches, arthritis and asthma, Wolski said.

There are even cannabis receptors in the brain programmed for marijuana use, he said. Cannibanoid receptors outnumber dopamin and serotonin receptors and are activated by endocannibanoids, found naturally in the body, or by the ingestion of cannabis.

As you might expect, there are also many critics of cannabis use for medicinal purposes.

Some critics argue that there is no definitive scientific proof of the claimed therapeutic qualities.

Wolski claims that the only farm capable of enabling studies to prove the link is located at the University of Mississippi and the Drug Enforcement Administration has a "tight grip on it," limiting possible studies.

"I don't know what kind of proof [critics] are looking for," he said. "It's almost impossible to do the studies because they cost several millions of dollars."

David Hunt, a professor of chemistry at The College of New Jersey, has worked as a research scientist in the pharmaceutical and agrichemical fields of study prior to teaching at TCNJ. He worked in a manufacturing environment, under the scrutiny of the Food and Drug Administration and the Drug Enforcement Agency, that involved controlled substances.

He said he does see a link and recognizes its therapeutic qualities. While he said that he is in favor of allowing the use of medical marijuana, "especially for patients that have no other recourse," he also said there are a few areas that need consideration.

The study of marijuana, and, specifically, its synthetic alternative Drabinol was an area of particular interest at the lab, Hunt said. Drabinol acts like marijuana's active ingredient - Delta-9 THC- but is packaged in a gel cap oil-based solution ( a capsule ) that can be administered in carefully measured doses, he said.

The major difference between the two is that medical marijuana would most likely be inhaled, whereas Drabinol would be ingested orally, he said.

"I think the primary concern is that [marijuana] is going to hit the blood stream much faster [if inhaled]," he said. "If you take it orally [as with Drabinol], it has to pass through the stomach into the intestines and be absorbed into the blood stream that way."

Another problem area is the extra chemicals that are released when smoking marijuana, Hunt said.

"With medical marijuana, if you ingest it by smoking, you're not just smoking the Delta-9 THC, but any other material that may be in the marijuana plant," he said. "Since you're smoking it, that means that in order to vaporize it you have to heat the material to very high temperatures.

"So, consequently, there are pyrolysis products, or products that come about from the degradation of neutral materials due to intense heat, and a lot of those products have little if no therapeutic use at all," he said.

In fact, they could be harmful, he said.

Wolski points out that it could be eaten to avoid some of these issues.

"These are the kind of things that should be worked out. But the benefits outweigh the risks," he said.

The fact that the plant can be cultivated naturally, so easily, has its own set of complications that come into play when eating or smoking it, Hunt noted.

The potency of the herb depends on factors like its geography, whether it's a plant hybrid or whether it's a wild type plant and more, he said. Hunt also brought up the example of a certain batch of "Acapulco Gold," a potent brand of marijuana cultivated in Mexico, that, during the '70s, had been exposed to an herbicide called paraquat. People who had smoked it suffered various negative health effects.

"I think that's my primary concern, where it's coming from and what it's been exposed to," Hunt said.

Hunt does think there are ways to set quality measures for marijuana that are comparable to Drabinol, but it's not easy.

"There's really no way to control it," he said. "It's so readily available in nature. So readily available through the black market that, like I say, there's no way to control the quality of the product that a patient gets."

Another worry is addiction. The jury is still out as to whether marijuana is addictive. Wolski claims that nicotine is a more addictive substance than marijuana, which is about as addictive as caffeine.

"It is one of the single most worst disasters of social injustice," he said. "You have to look at the logic. Doctors prescribe morphine, a much stronger drug."

So why would a medicine that, according to many, has therapeutic qualities with less side effects not be widely studied for validation?

Wolski said it all has to do with money."The pharmaceutical industry is a very powerful industry. They give a lot of money to physicians and politicians," he said. "To have an alternative that can be grown by patients themselves is a threat."

Hunt also said it has to do with money, but more in the sense of financial efficiency.

"A lot of times when you're looking at drugs, there are natural versus synthetic derivatives and the concentrations in the natural source may be so small as to make the extraction isolation not commercially viable," he explained. "So if a company can actually figure out how to make a material through a synthetic pathway, which is much more efficient, they'll do that out of commercial and financial reasons."

The arguments for supporting the cause and criticisms against it are clear.

For now, Wolski and the coalition remain hopeful that more politicians and interested individuals will come to their aid.

"You can't deny the science, the knowledge, the benefits and the compassion," he said.

Source: Lawrence Gazette (NJ)
Copyright: 2007 Community News Service
Contact: jemanski@communitynewsnj.com
Website: http://lawrencespace.com/
 
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