In 1978, the federal government of the United States launched the Compassionate Investigational New Drug (IND) Program, an initiative intended to provide medical cannabis grown by the government to those with serious diseases and health issues — for life. The program, however, wasn’t launched as a result of a curiosity regarding the medicinal efficacy of cannabis on the part of the nation’s leaders. Rather, it was the culmination of two lawsuits by Robert Randall, a pioneering patient from Sarasota, Florida.
In 1976, Randall sued the government and won in a federal court the right to use medical cannabis to treat his glaucoma. A Federal District Court ruled that Randall’s use of marijuana was a necessity for his health. In fact, it was this case that established the precedent of medical necessity as a plausible legal defense for prosecuted patients. However, according to the New York Times:
“Two years later, the government cut off his access to the drug, but he sued for reinstatement and won.”
Randall’s second legal battle and victory resulted in the creation of the Compassionate IND Program, which — although it serves a very small number of patients — is still in effect today. Roughly 1,200 low-quality cannabis joints (cigarettes) are distributed to patients around the United States each month.
Although Randall died in June 2001, several other patients continue to each month receive large tins containing 300 low-grade pre-rolled joints from the federal government. The cannabis is grown on a farm at the University of Mississippi that has been managed by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) since 1968. Unfortunately, the Bush administration closed enrollment to the IND Program in 1992. Existing participants, however, remain within the program until death and continue to receive their canisters of low-THC cannabis joints.
Many are shocked to learn of this 37-year-old program and its participants. Upon first gaining knowledge of the program, it is easy to dismiss the story as an urban legend or internet clickbait. What is most problematic, however, is the hypocrisy illustrated by this effort. While government officials can arguably defend themselves by noting that it was a court decision that forced them to begin producing and delivering cannabis medicine to a small group of patients, the fact that cannabis continues to be categorized as Schedule I by the federal government is a blatant example of illogical and hypocritical public policy.
The FDA doesn’t reveal the number of patients participating in the IND Program, but some believe that between two and four remain. Two of these patients reside in Florida, including Irvin Rosenfeld, a 61-year-old stockbroker who has a tumor disorder, and Elvy Musikka, a 72-year-old glaucoma sufferer and cannabis legalization activist.
Rosenfeld began receiving cannabis under the program in 1982 and has written a book about his experience entitled My Medicine, the cover of which features him holding a large tin of low-grade government joints from the Compassionate IND program (grown on the NIDA-managed farm). He is probably the most publicized and interviewed of the participants. Echoing the perception that the government’s actions are hypocritical, Rosenfeld said:
“The United States federal government has been supplying me 10 marijuana cigarettes per day for almost 33 years, and in the same vein arresting people for possessing marijuana they give me for medical use.”
Rosenfeld uses cannabis to treat a rare bone tumor disease and has calculated his consumption of legal government cannabis over more than three decades, estimating that he has smoked more than 120,000 joints provided by the government’s pot farm at the University of Mississippi. Mussika, who has been highly critical of the IND Program and prohibition overall, notes that many federal lawmakers are completely unaware of this program.
“They’re very surprised — [most] didn’t know the government ever supplied anybody,”
Irvin Rosenfeld smoking one of the cannabis joints provided to him by the U.S. Government.
Until the government allows robust clinical research and human trials into the therapeutic benefits of medical cannabis, access to the drug for patients in states that have yet to legalize adult use will lag. It is currently the Schedule I status of cannabis that officially categorizes it as a highly addictive and dangerous drug with zero medical value (along with bath salts and heroin). Schedule II, a Controlled Substances Act category intended for less dangerous drugs, features methamphetamine and cocaine, both of which can be prescribed by a physician.
Because of its Schedule I status, doctors — even those in states with medical or adult use laws — cannot prescribe cannabis. Instead, they are limited to writing a recommendation. Many medical cannabis advocates are insisting on a Schedule III categorization, or lower, to ensure that ample research can be conducted that involves human trials and high-quality cannabis, such as that which can be purchased in states like Washington, Oregon, and Colorado.
Eventually, attrition will dwindle the patient population of the Compassionate IND Program to nothing and it will cease to exist. Although this will reduce the government’s hypocrisy, it will do little to provide safe access to cannabis medicine for millions of sick patients like Rosenfeld and Mussika.
“If I didn’t have my medical marijuana, most likely I’d be dead. If I was still alive, I’d be on disability and homebound. Instead, I’m a stockbroker here in Fort Lauderdale.”
Photo credit: wptv.com; philly.com
Alzheimer disease (also known as Alzheimer’s disease or simply Alzheimers) was discovered in 1906 by Dr. Alois Alzheimer, who diagnosed it following an autopsy on the brain of a person who died of an unknown mental illness.
Alzheimer’s actually begins damaging the brain up to a decade prior to the onset of any form of short-term memory loss. It is this memory loss that is the infamous first symptom of the disease.
Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States and plagues about five million Americans. It is a progressive neurodegenerative brain disorder and the most common form of dementia. In fact, it is estimated that Alzheimer disease causes 60 to 70 percent of all cases of dementia. One in three senior citizens will eventually die from this disease or another form of dementia.
2016 Israeli Study
While previous research has already revealed the benefits of cannabis in the treatment of neurological disorders, including Alzheimers and Parkinson’s, a new study confirms previous findings.
In a study published in January 2016, a team from Israel comprised of medical researchers from Tel-Aviv University and Bar-Ilan University, added medical cannabis oil to the treatment regimens of a small group of patients suffering from Alzheimer’s. Researches administered the medical cannabis oil to deliver THC to study participants. The objective of the study was to measure the efficacy and safety of cannabis oil as a supplement to traditional pharmacotherapy for the relief of “behavioral and psychological symptoms of dementia.”
Concluded the study:
“Adding medical cannabis oil to Alzheimer’s disease patients’ pharmacotherapy is safe and a promising treatment option.”
This study was conducted to further explore the previously proven background that “Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is a potential treatment for Alzheimer’s disease (AD).”
Cannabis has also been proven to provide relief from several other symptoms of aging experienced by seniors, including arthritis, chronic pain and loss of appetite. While initial studies are promising, the neuroprotective qualities of the plant should be explored further.
Until such research is permitted in the United States and Congress is willing to remove cannabis from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act, similar studies will be lacking in the States. As long as cannabis is legally considered as dangerous and addictive as heroin, methamphetamine, and cocaine, patients, caretakers, and physicians will lack the knowledge to apply the best strains of cannabis to a variety of diseases and conditions. Similarly, American cannabis breeders and cultivators will be left to rely upon anecdotal patient testimonies and research conducted outside the borders of the U.S.
In an unprecedented move, federal researchers visited a medical cannabis farm in Vancouver, Washington to gauge the health impacts of working in the industry and performing tasks such as cultivation and processing. Does the repetitive motion of trimming marijuana flowers promote carpal tunnel? Are those processing dozens of pounds of freshly harvested cannabis, over the long term, in danger of inhaling plant particles that may be harmful to their health?
These are the questions that researchers from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) are trying to answer by making observations and gathering data in a real world facility. They recently spent the majority of a week in carefully controlled observations on a working cannabis farm outside of Vancouver in an effort to gather metrics.
This is a highly ironic and even perplexing research study. Simply put: Because cannabis remains a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act, the federal government officially regards it as completely lacking medical benefit and being a highly addictive and dangerous drug, as much so as heroin. Even all forms of cocaine and methamphetamines are less-restricted Schedule II drugs that can be prescribed by a doctor.
This study is especially ironic given the refusal of government bodies, such as Congress, to allow even minimal research at the federal level. Last summer, Congress voted not to allow cannabis research, especially that focused on CBD efficacy for conditions like epilepsy and cancer, to be orchestrated by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and conducted by the National Institutes of Health outside of D.C.
This scientific investigation involved a team of four researchers descending on a pot farm owned by Tom Lauerman, also known as Farmer Tom to locals and customers, that lies just east of Vancouver. Their overall goal is to develop federal best practices and standards for workers in the cannabis industry. Again, a highly ironic and even confusing move for any group that’s officially part of the federal government. Until this farm visit, the team had never set foot on an actual, working commercial cannabis cultivation facility. The infamous University of Mississippi pot farm was the closest any of the researchers had officially come to a real world cultivation and processing operation.
Lauerman told reporters how he never imagined that his farm might someday be occupied by friendly employees of the federal government. He told local media:
“I never thought in my life that, by the time I’m 55 in the year 2015, we would have federal agents welcome onto my farm — like asking to come onto my farm — and get to educate them about cannabis. It simply just blows my mind.”
Researchers, who were not permitted to be identified by the media, outfitted cultivation and harvest workers with special sensors designed to do things like analyze air quality inside grow facilities. They even leveraged a high-tech glove (photos below) right out of science fiction that featured sensors that measured the activity of trimmers manicuring freshly harvested cannabis flowers.
What about the conflicting messages being sent by the feds to those in the cannabis industry and consumers of their products across the country? NIOSH claims that its research effort in no way conflicts with federal law simply because the researchers are analyzing working conditions, not the substance or product being produced. Because the activities of the cannabis farm are in full compliance with Washington State law, NIOSH — and apparently other government watchdogs — find no problem with the study or the researcher’s presence on the cannabis farm.
There were limitations, however. NIOSH researchers, for example, were prohibited under federal laws from touching or handling cannabis or cannabis products in any way. Results of the study won’t be released for at least a year (probably government speak for two to three). The cannabis industry and legalization movement should eagerly await and support the results of such studies to properly regulate and manage a burgeoning industry that promises to produce tens of billions in economic growth for a nation that has suffered a jobless recovery, severe underemployment, and a withering middle class for nearly a decade.
The White Hat Feds
Unlike the DEA and many Justice Department officials when dealing with individuals or companies in legal states like Washington, the NIOSH researchers were welcomed with open arms and conducted themselves professionally and with the best interests of cannabis industry workers in mind.
It should also be pointed out that the government researchers didn’t simply demand access to Lauerman’s farm or otherwise bully their way onto his property; they were invited. And who invited then? Lauerman. He said he wanted to ensure the eventual adoption by the industry of workplace protections for cannabis workers. Said Lauerman:
“Nobody has any idea what makes a safe workplace, it’s a new industry. I’m honored to have [the NIOSH] here.”
Will the DEA Step In?
Will the DEA try to squelch future research efforts by other government organizations, regardless of the legality? Normalization and acceptance of the plant, for any reason, including hardcore medical applications, are seriously frowned upon by the DEA, an organization that is beginning to see its budget reduced while progressive members of Congress call for its continued defunding and even dismantlement.
Cannabis activists and advocates can only hope that further cooperation between any faction of the federal government and the cannabis industry will occur in an effort to research and regulate what is becoming a multi-billion industry touching tens of millions of consumers and tax payers. Huge markets are being created in single states. The green rush is partially based on what might be accomplished by a majority of states declaring full legalization—let alone the anticipated eventual federal legalization that will inevitably occur after Luddites of Congress have retired and been replaced by more progressive colleagues.
To learn the results of this study, curious cannabis consumers must remain patient. For those who have suffered under the legal paranoia of prohibition and the uncertainty and frustration of black markets — especially those who are sick — patience has always been the modus operandi anyway.
Last week, two lawmakers in Washington, D.C. expressed their frustration over the fact that the Department of Justice (DOJ) has continued to prosecute patients in states where medical cannabis is legal — in open defiance of a congressional amendment passed last December that protects patients and dispensaries. California Representatives Dana Rohrabacher (a Republican) and Sam Farr (a Democrat), co-sponsors of the amendment that prohibits federal interference in states where medical cannabis is legal, sent a letter to the DOJ demanding that prosecutions of patients and providers cease.
Wrote the representatives in a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder:
“We respectfully insist that you bring your Department back into compliance with federal law by ceasing marijuana prosecutions and forfeiture actions against those acting in accordance with state medical marijuana laws.”
The Justice Department, however, in a very narrow interpretation of the law, has issued statements reflecting its belief that the amendment does not apply to cases against individuals or organizations (such as dispensaries that are currently being prosecuted in California). Patrick Rodenbush, a spokesperson for the DOJ, said the law only stops the department from “impeding the ability of states to carry out their medical marijuana laws.”
Congressmen Rohrabacher and Farr, in their letter to Holder, said that the DOJ’s interpretation of the amendment was “emphatically wrong.” They went on to state that the purpose of the amendment was to prevent the DOJ from wasting law enforcement resources on prosecutions of “medical marijuana patients and providers, including businesses that operate legally under state law.”
These “enforcement resources” are outlined in a 2013 report by Americans for Safe Access. The report illustrated that the Obama administration has spent more than $80 million per year — equal to about $200,000 per day — to prosecute medical marijuana users, cultivators, and dispensaries. The crackdown has been justified by the fact that cannabis is, alongside heroin and meth, a Schedule I drug, giving it an official status of “no currently accepted medical use.”
Separate legislation has been introduced to Congress that would reclassify cannabis to Schedule II, preventing the crackdown by the DOJ and DEA in states with legal medical marijuana. It would also allow much needed research into the plant’s medical efficacy. While passage of this rescheduling is uncertain, it would go beyond the existing federal amendment and offer broader, less ambiguous protections for individuals and retail outlets.
The only thing that seems certain currently is the DOJ’s defiance of the existing amendment and its continued prosecution of patients and dispensaries in places like the San Francisco Bay area and the state of Washington. However, given the strict interpretation of the amendment and defiant stance of the DOJ, patients and providers in all 23 states where medical cannabis is legal are subject to fear, federal scrutiny, and prosecution.