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Treating Opiate and Chloral Addiction with Cannabis


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Because cannabis did not lead to physical dependence, it was found to be superior to the opiates for a number of therapeutic purposes. Birch, in 1889, reported success in treating opiate and chloral addiction with cannabis,[5] and Mattison in 1891 recommended its use to the young physician, comparing it favorably with the opiates. He quoted his colleague Suckling:

With a wish for speedy effect, it is so easy to use that modern mischief-maker, hypodermic morphia, that they [young physicians] are prone to forget remote results of incautious opiate giving.

Would that the wisdom which has come to their professional fathers through, it may be, a hapless experience, might serve them to steer clear of narcotic shoals on which many a patient has gone awreck.

Indian hemp is not here lauded as a specific. It will, at times, fail. So do other drugs. But the many cases in which it acts well, entitle it to a large and lasting confidence.

My experience warrants this statement: cannabis indica is, often, a safe and successful anodyne and hypnotic.[23] In their study of the medical applications of cannabis, physicians of the nineteenth century repeatedly encountered a number of difficulties. Recognizing the therapeutic potential of the drug, many experimenters sought ways of overcoming these drawbacks to its use in medicine, in particular the following:

Cannabis products are insoluble in water.

The onset of the effects of medicinal preparations of cannabis takes an hour or so; its action is therefore slower than that of many other drugs. Different batches of cannabis derivatives vary greatly in strength; moreover, the common procedure for standardization of cannabis samples, by administration to test animals, is subject to error owing to variability of reactions among the animals.

There is wide variation among humans in their individual responses to cannabis. Despite these problems regarding the uncertainty of potency and dosage and the difficulties in mode of administration, cannabis has several important advantages over other substances used as analgesics, sedatives, and hypnotics:

The prolonged use of cannabis does not lead to the development of physical dependence. [11, 13, 14, 24, 39, 44] There is minimal development of tolerance to cannabis products. (Loewe notes a slight "beginner's

habituation" in dogs, during the first few trials with the drug, as the only noticeable tolerance effect.[20]) [11, 13, 14, 24, 44] Cannabis products have exceedingly low toxicity.[9, 21, 22, 24] (The oral dose required to kill a mouse has been found to be about 40,000 times the dose required to produce typical symptoms of intoxication in man.)[21] Cannabis produces no disturbance of vegetative functioning, whereas the opiates inhibit the gastrointestinal tract, the flow of bile and the cough reflex.[1, 2, 24, 44, 46] Besides investigating the physical effects of medicinal preparations of cannabis, nineteenth-century physicians observed the psychic effects of the drug in its therapeutic applications.[4, 27, 33] They found that cannabis first mildly stimulates, and then sedates the higher centers of the brain. Hare suggested in 1887 a possible mechanism of cannabis' analgesic properties: During the time that this remarkable drug is relieving pain a very curious psychical condition manifests itself; namely, that the diminution of the pain seems to be due to its fading away in the distance, so that the pain becomes less and less, just as the pain in a delicate ear would grow less and less as a beaten drum was carried farther and farther out of the range of hearing.

reported by Dr. Alan D. Bryan
Schaffer Library of Drug Policy
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