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Marijuana and the Human Brain

The policy implications

This is devastating to opposition to the medical use of marijuana, which is solely based on challenges to the credibility of personal observations by patients exploiting marijuana's therapeutic benefits.

John Lawn, then-administrator of the DEA, had this to say in 1989 about the credibility of marijuana's medicinal users when he rejected the recommendation of Administrative Law Judge Francis Young that marijuana be made available for medical use: "These stories of individuals who treat themselves with a mind-altering drug, such as marijuana, must be viewed with great skepticism...These individuals' desire to rationalize their marijuana use removes any scientific value from their accounts of marijuana use."

As a result of this new research at the National Institute of Mental Health, there is no scientific basis for that sort of prejudice on the part of our public servants. Just as marijuana users have been accurate in describing the tolerance and dependence liabilities of marijuana for over 20 years, patients who use marijuana medicinally are accurate in describing the therapeutic benefits they achieve with their marijuana use.

Constant therapeutic use of marijuana represents a third tier of effects from the drug, a tier once thought unimaginable because of the now-discredited fear of addiction. At this level, tolerance compensates for virtually all marijuana-related impairment of motor coordination and cognitive functions. The result is a therapeutic drug with wide applications and few debilitating side effects.

The outer limits of being high are reached when natural systems decide that the needs of the body supersede the wants of the mind. The third tier represents the most noble effects of marijuana: comfort, care and treatment for people with genuine needs.

The discovery of the cannabinoid receptor system was a revolutionary event of profound significance. These new findings on tolerance may presage further revolutionary developments from the laboratories of NIMH in the next few years - such as the natural role of the cannabinoid receptor system and the brain chemical which activates it.

Meanwhile, advocates of marijuana-law reform must learn to use the latest research as a tool to demonstrate that marijuana users have been right for a long, long time. The remaining challenge is to confront the irrationality of America's current public policy.

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