Facts on medical marijuana are stubborn things, too

Facts on medical marijuana are stubborn things, too                             By: Joseph Summerill  10/23/11                                                                      OpEd Contributor

In the words of John Adams, "facts are stubborn things, and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence."

These same words resonate today in the debate over the legalization of medical marijuana. During this month of October, which is National Substance Abuse Prevention Month, it is important that we remind ourselves about the facts of using marijuana.

First, marijuana is a Schedule I drug under the federal Controlled Substances Act, and Schedule I substances exhibit a high potential for abuse or dependency, have no accepted medical value, and are unsafe to use, even under medical supervision.

According to the Food and Drug Administration, there have been no sound scientific studies supporting the medical value of marijuana. As such, marijuana has not passed the rigid scrutiny of medicine proposed by the FDA.

Two recent comprehensive studies by the Institute of Medicine and the American Medical Association acknowledged the lack of data to support the use of smoked marijuana for medicinal purposes.

The National Institutes of Health's National Institute on Drug Abuse has even stated that marijuana is unlikely to be used as a medicine in its smoked or vaporized form because it is an unpurified plant with often unpredictable side effects and it may cause cognitive defects that dramatically hinder its utility.

What is scientifically approved by the FDA and accepted by the medical community is a medicine called Marinol, a legal, widely prescribed drug currently in pill form containing synthetic THC, a main constituent in marijuana.

This FDA-approved drug has been found to relieve the adverse side effects of patients undergoing chemotherapy and to stimulate appetites in patients suffering from HIV/AIDS

The alternative, non-FDA approved drug, smoked marijuana, contains more than 400 chemicals, many of which are identical to the most harmful chemicals and carcinogens found in cigarette smoke. The fact is that a marijuana cigarette contains four times as much tar as a tobacco cigarette.

Another fact is that legalizing marijuana leads to the use of more dangerous and harmful drugs, such as cocaine and methamphetamine. In a study of 3,000 medical marijuana users published in the Harm Reduction Journal, researchers found that nearly 75 percent of Caucasian participants had used cocaine and more than 50 percent had used methamphetamine in their lifetime.

In a similar study by Columbia University, teens who smoke marijuana were found to be 85 times more likely to use cocaine than those teens who do not smoke marijuana.

Yet another fact is that marijuana use, including its use for medicinal purposes, is directly related to motor vehicle accidents and reckless driving, as cannabis affects psychomotor functioning.

A medical marijuana user in San Diego is reported to have caused 13 car accidents while under the influence of the drug for medicinal purposes, and, in a tragic accident, a 56-year old elementary school teacher was killed by a medical marijuana user in an automobile accident in California.

In a study of fatally injured drivers in Washington state, a state with legalized medical marijuana, about one every eight tested positive for marijuana.

With 16 states and the District of Columbia now defining marijuana as "medicine," society seems to have ignored Adams' advice. We are becoming less alarmed by the effects of marijuana and more accepting of its use.

The undisputable facts, however, are that there are no sound scientific data supporting the medical value of marijuana, and legalizing marijuana raises serious public safety concerns. These facts cannot be ignored.

Joseph Summerill is director of the Summerill Group LLC, a Washington, D.C.- based law enforcement think tank and general counsel for the Major County Sheriffs' Association.