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A New Direction in US Medical Marijuana Policy

March 09, 2009 By Doug in Miscellaneous  | 12 Comments


Don’t let the rasta cap I wear fool you: I’m not a pot smoker.  Oh, I’ve tried it.  I even inhaled.  It just gave me the munchies and made it hard for me to remember what I was talking about, which is hard enough on general principle.  Nonetheless, when Attorney General Eric Holder announced Feb. 27 that the federal government was to stop the raids on state-approved marijuana dispensaries, it brought a tear of joy to my eyes.  Why? Because my best friend is among those people for whom marijuana is a miracle medicine.



My friend suffers from schizoaffective disorder, which is basically schizophrenia accompanied by a mood disorder, like bipolar.  Bipolar disorder is what they used to call manic-depression, an illness marked by periods of severe depression and excessive, often dangerously unbounded energy.  Since his diagnosis, he’s been through the gamut of available atypical (i.e., second generation) antipsychotic drug combinations…Risperdal, Geodon, Abilify, Zyprexa, Seroquel, and others.  And while he was taking these various combinations, receiving what passes in our nation today as medication management by community mental health centers, he still continued to sporadically hear voices, experience mania, paranoid delusions, and the whole nine yards. 

Although mental health professionals and the pharmaceutical companies who sponsor them proclaim that great strides have been made in recent years with these new antipsychotic drugs, in my friend’s case, the results have been short-lived, at best.  The prevailing theory is that schizophrenic psychosis is caused by an excess of the chemical messenger dopamine in the brain; antipsychotic drugs work by blocking the dopamine receptors, and typically require 6 or 8 weeks to take effect.  They can lessen the symptoms for a while in periods which vary from individual to individual.  However, over time, research shows that the brain realizes that it’s been tampered with, and in order to “right” itself, simply sensitizes the remaining working receptors that it has in order to receive more dopamine, lessening the long-term efficacy of the drugs.  Patients often hop from drug to drug in order to circumvent this outcome, or stop taking them for periods of time, and the prognosis is less than stellar.  The fine print in the antipsychotic insert sheets reveals that most of the drug studies only cover three month periods, anyway (“effectiveness…in longer-term use, that is, more than 12 weeks, has not been systematically evaluated in controlled trials”), and that “the smallest dose and the shortest duration of treatment producing a satisfactory clinical response should be sought”, though no psychiatrist will ever tell you this.



Over the four years that I’ve known him, I’ve observed that it was only when my friend was able to access marijuana that his symptoms would lessen for any length of time.  When he’d get his bag, the compulsive laughing would cease; the pacing would subside.  He was actually able to sleep at night and focus on the world around him, rather than just the one inside his head.  He spoke less about aliens and more about gardening.  The change was like night and day, apparent in hours rather than weeks. You didn’t have to be a professional to recognize it.  What’s more, he reacted differently than I do to its effects.  He didn’t turn into a stoned zombie who couldn‘t remember his name.  In fact, it had the opposite effect.

There is science out there to explain its benefits, but for some reason, we don’t hear about this research so much.  Even so,  European studies have determined that cannabidiol, one of the non-intoxicating ingredients of marijuana, provides substantial antipsychotic properties for the treatment of acute schizophrenia, matching that of atypical antipsychotics.  Moreover, it does so without the side effects associated with more traditional medication, which can include excessive weight gain, hyperglycemia, diabetes, Reyes syndrome, cancer, Parkinson-like symptoms, tardive dyskinesia (involuntary facial grimacing and hand tremors), akathisia (inability to sit still), neuroleptic malignant syndrome (NMS), and even sudden death.  Contrary to popular belief, most newer antipsychotics are no better than the older ones when it comes to side effects (aka “extra-pyramidal symptoms”).  Marijuana, in contrast, is decidedly less risky.


I also have other friends who have benefitted from marijuana use for conditions ranging from personality disorders to cancer.  In addition to its antipsychotic value, it has also been shown to shrink tumors.  Unfortunately, cannabidiol is not available as a prescription in the US, and it may well be that other heretofore unstudied components in the plant contribute to its effectiveness.

It does bear noting that discontinuing pharmaceutical antipsychotics is not necessarily the answer.  If it works, don’t fix it.  And stopping cold-turkey with super-sensitized dopamine receptors can be disastrous and lead to acute symptoms.  Just make sure you know the benefits and the risks, and find a professional who is willing to give you a realistic picture.  Of course, don’t expect them to laud the benefits of medical marijuana.  The promotional office notepads, mousepads and calendars don’t have cannabis leaf emblems on them, after all.


Indeed, corporate lobbies work hard to create their own hype, which is packaged and delivered to the public as gospel.  They work hard to portray cannabis users as deadbeats who’ve lost all their motivation in life.  Real life observations, however, will often show you the contrary.  For example, there’s the case of Olympic medalist Michael Phelps, the poster-child of achievement, caught in a recent photograph showing that his diet consists of more than Wheaties.  It’s really not a good time for anti-pot propagandists.



President Bush’s drug policy was largely a lock-em-up and throw away the key approach, and for years, millions and millions of our tax dollars were used to convict, house and feed marijuana users and to raid state dispensaries which provided it for certain populations.


However, during the recent presidential campaign, the winds of change began to blow: then-candidate Barack Obama, when asked about his policy on medical marijuana, stated, “My attitude is if the science and the doctors suggest that the best palliative care and the way to relieve pain and suffering is medical marijuana, then that’s something I’m open to.  There’s no difference between that and morphine when it comes to just giving people relief from pain.”

Thankfully, in my opinion, Barack Obama is now our President, and he’s proving to be a man of his word.

And now, instead of being stuck with “the Decider”, we have someone in Washington who is finally listening to the people, who in large majorities have strongly advocated marijuana policy reform.  On Friday, White House Spokesman Nick Shapiro, recognizing California’s medical marijuana program, stated that the Obama administration’s position was that “federal resources should not be used to circumvent state laws.”

The door has now been opened for even more sweeping policy changes in the future, which I feel are desperately needed.



Medical marijuana programs are in place in only 14 states, whose criteria for approval varies from location to location.  Florida has no such program.  Whereas my friend was able to use a doctor’s letter in Los Angeles to walk around the block and safely purchase his medicine from a neighborhood dispensary, Miami, in turn, offers neither safe nor legal access.  Even when he’s been able to find people to get it for him, he’s been overcharged and frequently short-changed.  However, after Friday’s announcement, there’s hope in the air for my friend and those like him.  States with bills floating around their legislatures may now be emboldened to push them through.  Not only will it prevent needy patients from having to go without it, it will also take away a valuable commodity from the hands of gangs and organized crime.



The situation in which we find ourselves today is remarkably similar to the one we experienced in the Great Depression.  In those days, prohibition was the law of the land, and bootleg liquor was a main industry for mobsters, many of the proceeds of which, ironically enough, went to the construction of South Beach’s Art Deco District.  However, when prohibition was repealed by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1933, it took the money out of the hands of the mobsters, and brought an influx of millions of new tax dollars into the economy which helped our country recover from the Depression. 


Today, the decision is an even easier one: in addition to providing a much-needed boost for our economy and taking power away from gangs, cartels and other organized crime, we can also reduce government spending and alleviate the physical and mental suffering of millions of our citizens.  I only wish the rest of life was this simple.

What we can do to bring medical marijuana to Florida: write to legislators and join advocacy groups like  Plan local medical marijuana advocacy get-togethers on and work with lawmakers to find solutions that address their concerns while finding ways to make cannabis available for those who can benefit from it.  Help bring this drug out of the ghetto and into the pharmacies!

Related Categories: Hospitals Miscellaneous,

Douglas Eames is a freelance writer, homespun philosopher and budget bon vivant who divides his time between Southern California and South Beach.

See more articles by Doug.

See more articles by Doug

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12 Comments on

"A New Direction in US Medical Marijuana Policy"

Friendly Universe says:

I wonder if the Obama administration will reinstate the federal Investigational New Drug (IND) Program that Bush instructed the DEA to crack down on.  I guess that pre-Bush, this was a compassionate program for people who lived in non-medical marijuana states to apply for and receive federal marijuana. If so, maybe this is something Dave could apply for while the Florida legislature is getting its act together (wouldn’t hold my breath).

Posted on 03/09/2009 at 1:34 PM

Doug says:

Thanks for the information about the IND program! Who knew that the same government that was shutting down cannabis dispensaries in CA was also permitting a handful of people to receive medical marijuana?  This website talks a little more about its history, the Supreme Court rulings that allowed it to exist, and how it came to be shut down during the term of George HW Bush.  A handful of people were grandfathered into it at its demise and continue to receive federally-prescribed mj today.  It would be great if Obama could revive this program.  I actually know a few people with the above-described symptoms who would benefit from the Compassionate IND program.

Posted on 03/09/2009 at 6:05 PM

Bill says:

I found your article to be very informative. I remember when my Sister had cancer and was being treated with chemo therapy. The only thing that would help her horrible side effects was marijuana.
Keep up the fantastic writing.

Posted on 03/12/2009 at 8:36 AM

Doug says:

Hi Bill, thanks for your comments and sorry to hear about your sister.

Posted on 03/12/2009 at 10:52 AM

Joshua Giesegh says:

To anyone interested in reforming marijuana laws here in Florida.  There are groups all around the state actively collecting signatures for a medical marijuana amendment.  Go to to sign the petition.  Make sure you follow the directions and print it out on a single double sided sheet of paper and sign it with blue ink.  Thanks!

Posted on 03/30/2009 at 12:59 PM

FedUpTaxPayer says:

despite the positive outlook of this article and while most states seem to be moving forward towards humanness, decriminalization, and safe medical marijuana(14 states at present) , Florida is moving backwards towards feudal, draconian tyranny. In fact Florida Canabis laws are MORE SEVERE than even federal laws. And changes have been made this year to make them more severe. Mere possession of small amounts can land you in jail for 10 years. Florida legislators are too busy making Florida’s marijuana laws tougher than federal law to worry about sick and dying patients this year. look into Steve “enemy of the people” Oelrich (R-Gainesville) and Representative Nick “Draconian Law Sponsor” Thompson (R-Ft. Myers) and Charlie"Special Interest Group Whore” Crist

Posted on 05/11/2009 at 3:55 PM

Joshua Giesegh says:

While this has been the case, Florida finally has a chance for change.  Groups everywhere are making this a voter decision since our lawmakers haven’t stepped up.  It’s time to take action and make them see we are here!  Why are we waiting for them to make decisions for us? Are we not able to think and act for ourselves? 

Even the ex-Director of Drug Free America has endorsed this!

It has hit media outlets all across the state, matching our groups efforts in those areas, now is the time to take action!

Posted on 05/11/2009 at 4:30 PM

Doug says:

Thanks for your feedback, FedUpTaxPayer and Joshua.  It’s sad that the party that traditionally espouses keeping the government out of our private lives is the one seemingly intent on invading them the most.  I was aware of the new law designating cultivation of more than 25 plants as drug trafficking, but didn’t know that penalties for minimal possession were becoming more severe.  As Joshua says, it’s all the more reason to get involved.  It would be a pain to have to move to another state just to avoid being labeled as a criminal for using medication that works.

Posted on 05/11/2009 at 4:50 PM

herbal smoke says:

marijuana has major medical implications like a treatment for epilepsy and not to mention the calming effect could result in less crime ad anger management for people

Posted on 09/02/2009 at 11:25 AM



Posted on 09/08/2009 at 6:11 PM

Doug says:

Hi Lisette, I’m glad you enjoyed my story.  Joshua at PUFMM (see link in comment #7) is trying to get a medical marijuana initiative on the ballot for Florida.  They’re looking for registered voters to sign.  If you’d like to help, you can reach him through that website.  Good luck in your travels, too!

Posted on 09/08/2009 at 7:31 PM

Kyle Thomsen says:

Hey doug,  I am i student in south dakota, and I am doing a research paper on the legalization of medical marijuana in the u.s.  do you have anything that might help me?

Posted on 02/03/2012 at 2:15 PM

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