A Historical Look at Doctor’s Roles in Marijuana Reform 

By  Lanny Swerdlow

The term “groupthink” is defined as a psychological phenomenon that occurs within a group of people in which the desire for harmony or conformity in the group results in an irrational or dysfunctional decision-making outcome. No more egregious example of groupthink can be found then in the response of medical doctors to the federal government’s prohibition of cannabis. One would expect better for a profession grounded in science.

Cannabis has been used by physicians for 5,000 years dating back to ancient China where it was used to treat pain, intestinal constipation, female reproductive problems, malaria and many other ailments.

In 1851, cannabis was listed in the U.S Pharmacopeia as well as The National Formulary and Dispensatory of the United States, which noted that cannabis was used as an “aphrodisiac, to increase the appetite . . . it has been found to cause sleep, to allay spasm, to compose nervous disquietude and to relieve pain.”

Cannabis Doctors: What Happened to the American Medical Association?

Eighty years ago, when the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 passed, the American Medical Association (AMA) was the only organization to testify in opposition to prohibition. Appearing for the AMA was Dr. James Woodward who testified that cannabis is used as “a sedative and antispasmodic” and that “it can be used for psychological, psychoanalytical and psychotherapeutic research.” Most of his testimony centered on denying the claims of mayhem and violence put forth by the proponents of prohibition rebuffing their assertions of addiction and harm to children and pointing out they did not provide any “direct and primary evidence, rather than the indirect hearsay evidence.”

It wasn’t long though for the AMA to reject Dr. Woodward’s statements and fall in line with the “indirect hearsay evidence” that Dr. Woodward so vehemently objected to. To this day the AMA continues to maintain that “cannabis is a dangerous drug and as such is a public health concern.”

Due to the preeminence of the AMA, medical doctors throughout the United States have stood silently aside while this travesty continues to be peddled as medical science even though, as Dr. Woodward noted 80 years ago, the link to its dangers are not shown by any “direct and primary evidence.” Rather there is “direct and primary evidence” that cannabis does have significant benefits, and the peer-reviewed evidence has been around for a long time.

Why Are Doctors Ignoring Cannabis Science?

Over 35 years ago, Dr. Raphael Mechoulam, the discoverer of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), conducted clinical trials on epilepsy and found that all the trial participants had significantly reduced or even no epileptic seizures while they were taking the cannabinoids found in cannabis.

In 1995, Dr. Mechoulam conducted another study on children with cancer receiving anti-cancer treatments. Nausea and vomiting, a frequent side effect of anti-cancer medications, vanished in the children given cannabis but continued unabated in the children that didn’t get it.

Both studies were published and both were universally ignored by the medical profession.

Since 1990 there have been close to 100 peer-reviewed studies documenting the medical efficacy of cannabis in treating Lou Gehrig’s disease, bipolar disorder, cancer, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, Huntington’s Disease, irritable bowel syndrome, Multiple Sclerosis, nausea, pain, Parkinson’s, PTSD and arthritis.

The fact that doctors have allowed themselves to be intimidated and mislead by the lies of government bureaucrats and police agencies whose financial well-being was intrinsically related to the prohibition of cannabis shows how the power of government can lead even the most compassionate of professions astray.

“First, do no harm” is a tenant of the medical profession that has become its watchword. The harm that has befallen humanity as doctors failed to uphold Dr. Woodward’s protestations of the Marijuana Tax Act and, with no justification, turned their backs on the physicians who for millennia have instructed and provided cannabis to their patients, has been nothing short of catastrophic.

The harm cannot be undone, but there is no reason it needs to continue. It is time for doctors to publicly recognize the suffering their capitulation to groupthink has caused and take the lead role in expediently and rapidly bringing cannabis back into mainstream medicine.

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