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CA: Going to Pot: The Science Behind Marijuana

June 23, 2010

California Proposition 215 (1996) electoral re...
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By Anita Vogel and Laura Prabucki

The debate over medical marijuana started in earnest 14 years ago, when Californians passed Proposition 215. That allowed people with a doctor’s recommendation to possess and grow marijuana for personal medical use.
Today, medical marijuana is legal in 14 states and voters in Arizona and South Dakota will decide on the issue in November.
California voters face another historic vote this fall on whether to legalize pot for everybody over the age of 21.

Advocates for the clinical use of marijuana claim its effectiveness in treating glaucoma and pain and nausea from chemotherapy is unrivaled. Many patients insist pot helped where other medications failed.

“Some people drop out of chemotherapy because they are so nauseated and depleted by the effects,” said Dr. Richard Cohen, a San Francisco oncologist and one of the authors of Prop 215.

“This helps to get them over the hump to be able to give them full doses without moderating, without delaying and to give them a sense of feeling much improved in their daily life. It’s a quality of life decision.”

Doctors generally agree pot therapy works for some conditions but the disagreement comes over its availability and abuse.

“The idea that it needs to be commonly used, there’s no medical indication for that whatsoever. Not only that, it has a risk of lung cancer associated with it, a risk of psychiatric problems, anxiety, depression, dissociation and suicide,” said Dr. Marc Siegel, an internist at NY University Medical Center and a Fox News Medical Contributor

Another issue is the potency of today’s pot. New government research shows levels of THC, the ingredient that causes the marijuana “high”, are more than double what they were 20 years ago.

“We know that the THC, the potent part of the marijuana is considerably higher than it has been in the past and I think that’s of concern when it comes to dependence and other problems associated with marijuana,” said Gil Kerlikowske, the director of the National Drug Control Policy Office.

That’s got some concerned about how older Californians may vote for legalization because they remember smoking a few joints when they were in college – not realizing the drug, as it exists today, is much more powerful.

The latest L.A. Times/USC poll finds that a slim majority, 49 to 41 percent of voters favor the idea of legalizing the drug.

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