Pages Menu
TwitterRssFacebook
Categories Menu

SAM’s Blog

Kennedy Briefs Admin Officials at Camp David; SAM Releases 4/20 Report Card on Colorado

Posted by on Apr 19, 2014 in SAM in the News, Smart Policy | 0 comments

SAM CHAIRMAN PATRICK KENNEDY BRIEFS ADMINISTRATION OFFICIALS AT CAMP DAVID ON TROUBLING DATA FROM COLORADO

New report released by SAM reveals problems with legalization, including increased marijuana positives among employees, marijuana advertisements, new data on marijuana’s effects on the brain, and tobacco company interest in marijuana e-cigarettes.

DENVER, CO – Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM) Chairman, Former Congressman Patrick J. Kennedy, is at Camp David today briefing top Administration officials on the marijuana situation in Colorado. The information he is sharing will be released today in a report, 4/20 Report Card for Colorado, days before thousands of people gather in Colorado for statewide marijuana celebrations on April 20. This is the first in a series of reports SAM will be publishing. Future reports will reveal data on hospitalizations, poisonings, and other issues.

SAM’s 4/20 Report Card for Colorado was reviewed by SAM’s scientific advisory board, which is comprised of some of the world’s top public health researchers on marijuana.

Today, SAM Co-Founder and Chairman, former U.S. Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy reported the news to top U.S. administration officials at Camp David. “Sadly, Colorado is now known for a new kind of Rocky Mountain high,” said Kennedy. “Taking their cues from Big Tobacco, a massive marijuana industry has emerged to downplay the significant risk of massive commercialization and increased marijuana use. It’s important the Administration understands what is happening on the ground in Colorado.”

The SAM 4/20 Report Card includes troubling information such as:

  •  30% increase in drug tests positive for marijuana since 2013.
  •  93% increase in packages of marijuana intercepted leaving Colorado since 2010.
  •  New study revealing that casual marijuana use creates physical abnormalities inthe adolescent brain.
  •  A significant rise in children accidentally ingesting marijuana-infused foods.
  •  Companies that hope to profit off of marijuana e-cigarettes.

“We now know that the company selling Camel and Winston cigarettes outside the U.S. – the third largest tobacco conglomerate in the world – has invested in technology used to vaporize marijuana in an e-cigarette,” commented SAM’s Executive Director, Kevin A. Sabet. “We are beginning to see Big Tobacco get into the marijuana game, and it’s important for Administration officials to understand what is going on.” A recent Bloomberg Businessweek article reported that the founder of the e-cigarette company is “not ruling out marketing his device for weed in the future.”

The SAM 4/20 Report Card includes data collected since Colorado’s de facto legalization started in 2009 and full legalization was implemented in 2014. The report highlights how Colorado has not collected on its original projection of $134 million in revenue. In January, the state collected a mere $2 million in revenue from legal marijuana sales, and $3.2 million in February.

The report can be found here.

###

About Project SAM

Project SAM is a nonpartisan alliance of lawmakers, scientists and other concerned citizens who want to move beyond simplistic discussions of “incarceration versus legalization” when discussing marijuana use, and instead focus on practical changes in marijuana policy that neither demonizes users nor legalizes the drug. SAM supports a treatment, health-first marijuana policy.

Save the Date!

Posted by on Apr 3, 2014 in SAM in the News | 0 comments

SAM is happy to announce that it will hold its first annual National Marijuana Action Summit this summer!

July 19-20 at the Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek
Preceding the CADCA Mid-Year Training Institute

Visit midyear.cadca.org/samsummit for more details!

Speakers include:
Patrick Kennedy
Dr. Kevin Sabet
David Frum

David Frum: Don’t Go to Pot

Posted by on Apr 1, 2014 in SAM in the News, Smart Policy | 0 comments

David Frum: Don’t Go to Pot

Commentary: Don’t Go To Pot

The 50 states are sometimes called “laboratories of democracy”. Although the expression is intended to highlight in flattering terms how innovative they can be, it also suggests that the states’ political experiments can and do fail. In the event of failure, the hope must be that damage can be stopped at the state line. Today, the experiment of state-by-state marijuana legalization is failing before our eyes—and failing most signally where the experiment has been tried most boldly. The failure is accelerating even as the forces pushing legalization are on what appears to be an inexorable march.

In November 2012, the states of Colorado and Washington voted to legalize the sale of marijuana to any adult consumer. Advocates of legalization carried the vote with a substantial campaign budget, a few million dollars, and a brilliant slogan: “Drug dealers don’t ask for ID.” The implied promise: Marijuana legalization would be joined to tough enforcement to keep marijuana away from minors. After all, persistent and heavy marijuana use among adolescents has been shown to reduce their IQ as adults by 6 to 8 points. An Australian study of identical twins found that a twin who started using cannabis before age 17 was 3 times more likely to attempt suicide than the twin who did not.People in Colorado had good reason to worry about teen drug use. Colorado voters had approved a limited experiment with medical marijuana in 2000. A complex series of judicial and administrative decisions in the mid-2000s overthrew most restrictions on the dispensing of marijuana. Between 2009 and 2012, the number of dispensaries jumped past 500, and the number of medical cardholders multiplied from roughly 1,000 to more than 108,000.

With so many medical-marijuana card-holders walking about, it was simply inevitable that some would re-sell their marijuana to underage users. A 2013 study of Colorado teens in drug treatment found that 74 percent had shared somebody else’s medical marijuana. The number of occasions on which they had shared averaged over 50 times. According to a report by the Rocky Mountain High-Intensy Drug Trafficking Area, Colorado teens, by 2012, were 50 percent more likely to use marijuana than their peers in the rest of the country.

Debates about marijuana tend to travel pretty fast into the domain of libertarian ideology: I’m a consenting adult, why can’t I do what I want? Yet the best customers for the marijuana industry are not adults at all. The majority of people who try marijuana quit by age 30. Adults in their twenties are significantly less likely than high school students to smoke; 14 percent of twentysomethings say they smoke marijuana, while 22.7 percent of 12th-graders smoke at least once a month, and 6.5 percent say they smoke every day.

Why do people quit using marijuana as they mature? Your guess is as good as anybody else’s, but whatever the reason, the trend presents marijuana sellers with a marketing problem. Yet there is promising news from the emerging marijuana industry’s point of view: People who start smoking in their teens are significantly more likely to become dependent than people who start smoking later: about 1 in 6, as opposed to 1 in 10. Start them young; keep them longer. Very rationally, then, the marijuana industry is rolling out products designed to appeal to the youngest consumers: cannabis-infused soda, cannabis-infused chocolate taffy, cannabis-infused jujubes.

The promise that legalization will actually protect teenagers from marijuana is false. So, too, are the other promises of the legalizers. It is false to claim that marijuana legalization will break drug cartels. Those cartels will continue to traffic in harder and more lucrative drugs, such as heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine. Criminal cartels may well stay in the marijuana business, too, marketing directly to underage users. Public policy is about trade-offs, and marijuana users need to face up to the trade-off they are urging on American society. Legal marijuana use means more marijuana use, and more marijuana use means above all more teen marijuana use.

Proponents of marijuana legalization often question why the law bans marijuana but not alcohol or tobacco. One important difference is that alcohol and tobacco are drugs on the decline. Since 1980, per capita consumption of alcohol has dropped almost 20 percent. One-third of Americans smoked tobacco in 1980; fewer than one-fifth smoke today. The progress against drunk driving is even more remarkable: Fatalities caused by drunk drivers have decreased by more than half since 1982.

The reduction in tobacco and alcohol use has been hastened by increasingly restrictive laws that govern where and how these products may be consumed. Tobacco-smoking has been banned on planes, in restaurants, and in almost all public places. The drinking age, reduced in the 1970s from 21 to 18 in most states, was restored to 21 by federal action in the 1980s. Tobacco taxes have been steeply hiked. Bars that served intoxicated patrons face rising tort risk.

With marijuana, however, the law is heading in the opposite direction, and has been for some time. Since 1996, 20 states and the District of Columbia have approved “medical marijuana” laws, whereby people who obtain a prescription from a doctor can legally use or purchase marijuana. As in Colorado, many of these supposed medical regimes are degenerating into legalization by another name. Oregon, for example: At the end of 2012, it was home to 56,531 medical-marijuana patients. The majority of these 56,000-plus permissions were approved by only nine doctors. One doctor—an 80-year-old retired heart surgeon in Yakima—approved 4,180 medical-marijuana applications in a span of 12 months. Only 4 percent of Oregon’s medical-marijuana patients, as of the end of 2012, suffered from cancer. Only 1 percent were diagnosed with HIV/AIDS. The large majority, 57 percent, cited unspecified “pain” as the ailment for which treatment was sought. Yet none of the nine doctors who wrote the majority of the marijuana prescriptions was a pain specialist.

Fewer than 2 percent of California card holders have HIV, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, or cancer: One survey found that the typical California medical-marijuana patient was a healthy 32-year-old man with a history of drug and alcohol abuse. Here, too, some doctors are signing thousands of recommendations after only the scantiest examination—or none at all. An NBC news investigator in Los Angeles visited one dispensary, was examined by a man who later proved to be an acupuncturist and massage therapist, and then received a prescription signed by a doctor who lived 67 miles away.

In the words of Los Angeles police chief Charlie Beck, most dispensaries are “for-profit businesses engaged in the sale of recreational marijuana to healthy young adults.” By early 2012, Los Angeles contained almost eight times as many dispensaries as Starbucks coffee shops. The city became alarmed that the customers who congregated at these dispensaries were active in crimes from robbery to murder. By July, the City Council voted unanimously to shut down all of the nearly 800 known dispensaries in the city. The marijuana lobby succeeded in preventing that ban from going into effect, so the next year, the city government tried a different approach: a local referendum called Proposition D to cap the number of dispensaries at 135, raise taxes on marijuana sales, and forbid dispensaries to locate near primary, middle, and high schools.

The proposition was approved, but this approach also proved ineffective. In the words of Medical Marijuana Business Daily (yes, it exists):

Officials have actually only forced about 70 dispensaries to close so far. While some other dispensaries shut down on their own to avoid legal troubles, most did not. That means at least 700—possibly more—illegal shops are still open.

“What happened is that we’re really trying to put a Band-Aid on some crazy open wound, and it’s not big enough to stop the bleeding,” said Adam Bierman, who runs the consultancy MedMen. “Prop D as a concept is half decent, but there’s really no way to enforce it.”

Marijuana does possess certain medicinal properties. So does opium. But we don’t allow unscrupulous quacks to write raw opium prescriptions for anyone willing to pay $65. And if we did, would anybody be surprised that the vast majority of opium buyers were not recovering from surgery—and that many of them shared or resold some of their opium to underage users?

Some older adults have a hard time crediting the dangers of marijuana use because they imagine the marijuana on sale today is the same low-grade stuff they smoked in college. The marijuana sold in the 1980s averaged between 3 and 4 percent THC, the psychoactive ingredient. Today’s selectively bred marijuana averages over 12 percent THC, with some strains reaching 30 percent. Hundreds of YouTube videos will show you how to combust a marijuana wax with butane, to boost the THC content to 90 percent. As marijuana consumers shift from smoking to ingesting marijuana, they can ingest larger and larger doses of THC at a time. Since 2006, Colorado emergency rooms have seen a steep rise in the number of patients arriving panicked and disoriented from excess THC, including a near doubling of patients ages 13 and 14.

It’s said that nobody ever died from a marijuana overdose. Nobody ever died from a tobacco overdose either, but that doesn’t prove tobacco safe. Of all the dangers connected to marijuana, the most lethal is the risk of automobile accident. Marijuana-related fatal car crashes have nearly tripled across the United States in the past decade.Marijuana legalizers may counter: Can’t we just extend laws against drunk driving to stoned driving?

Unfortunately, it’s not so easy. What exactly defines marijuana impairment remains fiercely contested by an increasingly assertive marijuana industry. It took Colorado four tries to enact a legal definition of marijuana impairment: five nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood. Yet even once enacted, the standard remains very difficult to enforce. Alcohol impairment can be detected with a Breathalyzer. Marijuana impairment is revealed only by a blood test, and long-established law requires police to obtain a search warrant before a blood test is administered.

More important than catching impaired drivers after the fact is deterring them before they get behind the wheel. In the absence of a blood-testing kit, marijuana users themselves will find it difficult to know how much is too much. Time recently quoted a spokesperson for the Colorado Department of Transportation: “It’s not like alcohol. People metabolize it differently. There are different potencies,” the official said. “So there’s really no solution in terms of saying ‘you’re now at the limit.’ I just don’t think there’s enough research that we can say, ‘Wait x amount of hours before getting on the road.’ I don’t know whether it’s five hours or 10 hours or the next day. We just don’t know.”

Back in 2007, a survey by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that on any given Saturday night, about 12 percent of drivers tested positive for alcohol; about 6 percent for marijuana. Since then, 10 more states and the District of Columbia have adopted medical-marijuana regimes, which surely means even more buzzed drivers on the roads.

Yet the most pervasive harm of marijuana may be psychic rather than physical. A battery of studies have found regular marijuana use to be associated with worse outcomes at school, social life, and work. I use the cautious phrase “associated with,” because it’s far from clear whether marijuana use is a cause or an effect of other problems—or (most likely) both cause and effect. An isolated, underachieving kid starts smoking marijuana. That kid then descends deeper into isolation and underachievement. Marijuana may not have been the “cause” of the kid’s malaise, but it intensifies the malaise and may inhibit or even prevent his emergence from it.

The negative spiral of despondency leading to marijuana use, leading to deeper and more protracted despondency, makes the present moment a particularly unpropitious one for marijuana legalization. The United States is currently recovering feebly from the gravest economic crisis since the Great Depression. Prospects for young people especially have narrowed. Are we really going to say to them: “Look, we haven’t got jobs for you, your chances at marriage are dwindling, you may be 30 before you can move out of your parents’ place into a home of your own, but we’ll make it up to you with pot, video games, and online porn”? They want to start life, but they are being offered instead only narcotic dreams.

As human beings, our judgment is not only imperfect, but is prone to fail in highly predictable ways. Insert a recurring charge onto our phone bill, and we will soon cease to notice it. We evolved under conditions where sugars and salt were scarce, and so we will eat far more than we need if given the chance. We overestimate our luck and will gamble our money in ways that make no mathematical sense. Our brains are wired for addictions. If a substance can trigger that addiction, it can overthrow all the reasoning and moral faculties of the mind.

Lucrative industries have arisen to exploit these weaknesses in ways highly harmful to their customers. And the bold irony is that when their practices are challenged, they’ll invoke the very principles of individual choice and self-mastery that their industry is based on negating and defeating. So it was with tobacco. So it is with casino gambling. So it will be with marijuana.

Proponents of marijuana legalization do make a valid point when they worry that marijuana laws are enforced too punitively—and that this too punitive approach inflicts disparate punishment on minority users as compared with white users. Ordinary marijuana users should receive civil penalties; repeat users belong in treatment, not prison; communities should experience law enforcement as an ally and supporter of local norms, not an outside force stamping young people with indelible criminal records for mistakes that carry fewer consequences for the more affluent and the better connected. It’s also true, however, that these alternative methods can succeed only if the background rule is that marijuana is illegal. It’s very often the threat of criminal sanction that impels users to seek the treatment they need, while still young enough to turn their lives around.

The illegal U.S. market for marijuana is already twice as big as the market for coffee. As that market is legalized, it will expand, and the industry that serves the market will be emboldened to hire lobbyists to promote its continued expansion. The vision offered by some academics of a legal but noncommercial marijuana market shows little realism about American government. American legislatures exhibit notoriously poor resistance against checkbook-wielding special interests.

The resistance will be all the weaker since the costs of marijuana legalization will be borne by people to whom American legislatures pay scant attention anyway. Marijuana retailers will be located most densely in America’s poorest neighborhoods, just as liquor and cigarette retailing is now. Out of whose pockets will the marijuana taxes of the future be paid? Whose addiction and recovery services will be least well funded? In a society in which it is already sufficiently difficult for people to rise from the bottom, who’ll find that their rise has become harder still?

Will ‘America’s biggest social experiment’ see the country go to pot?

Posted by on Mar 27, 2014 in SAM in the News | 0 comments

Australian Broadcasting Corporation
Broadcast: 26/03/2014
Reporter: Ben Knight

Watch here: http://www.abc.net.au/7.30/content/2014/s3972278.htm

 

Press Release: New Hampshire House Convincingly Rejects Legalization

Posted by on Mar 27, 2014 in SAM in the News, Smart Policy | 0 comments

NEW HAMPSHIRE HOUSE CONVINCINGLY REJECTS LEGALIZATION

The New Hampshire House of Representatives voted 192-140 on Wednesday not to legalize one ounce of recreational marijuana, demonstrating that legalization is not inevitable.

Concord, NH – On Wednesday March 26, the House voted 192-140 against legalizing one ounce of marijuana for recreational use in New Hampshire.

“This is a victory for public health advocates across the state,” remarked Linda Saunders Paquette, executive director at New Futures, an organization that seeks to reduce alcohol and drug problems in New Hampshire, which also serves as the New Hampshire affiliate for Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM), “Full legalization of marijuana would lead to lower work place productivity, expose our children to an increasingly potent substance, and increase the amount of intoxicated drivers on New Hampshire roadways.”

SAM’s chairman, former Congressman Patrick Kennedy, stated, “Maine and New Hampshire wisely rejected Big Marijuana and the drug’s commercialization that will inevitably accompany such a policy. Lawmakers should be commended for resisting the powerful lobbies and special interests behind marijuana promotion.”

With New Futures as the anchor organization, New Hampshire became the 20th state affiliated with the national public health alliance, Smart Approaches to Marijuana (Project SAM). This came as an effort to ground the marijuana policy debate in New Hampshire in science. Members of Project SAM appreciate the opportunity to continue the conversation on a sensible approach to marijuana.

Paquette further remarked, “Maine and New Hampshire prove that legalization is not inevitable, despite the rhetoric of activists. These states are wise to learn from Colorado’s already bad experience with such a policy.”

###

About New Futures

New Futures is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization that advocates, educates and collaborates to reduce alcohol and other drug problems in New Hampshire. It envisions a State and local communities where public policies support prevention, treatments and recovery oriented efforts to reduce alcohol and other drug problems.

About Smart Approaches to Marijuana

Project SAM is a nonpartisan alliance of lawmakers, scientists and other concerned citizens who want to move beyond simplistic discussions of “incarceration versus legalization” when discussing marijuana use, and instead focus on practical changes in marijuana policy that neither demonizes users nor legalizes the drug. SAM supports a treatment, health-first marijuana policy.

SAM Featured in CNN’s Sanjay Gupta’s Documentary, “Weed 2”

Posted by on Mar 12, 2014 in SAM in the News, Smart Policy | 0 comments

SAM Featured in CNN’s Sanjay Gupta’s Documentary, “Weed 2”

March 12, 2014 – [Washington, DC] – Today, Smart Approaches to Marijuana Co-Founder, Congressman Patrick J. Kennedy released the following statement about “Weed 2,” Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s CNN Documentary that featured Congressman Kennedy:

“As shown on Dr. Gupta’s documentary, SAM believes that marijuana contains medical value. We know that the plant’s non-smoked components, whether in synergy or in isolation, can be medically beneficial for those with serious illnesses. I stand by my remarks. But I also stand by the remarks that did not make the final cut of CNN’s piece. Nothing was included by CNN that discussed the new Tobacco industry emerging in Colorado via commercialization and legalization.

“It’s hard to fathom that a one-hour documentary on marijuana did not go into more detail about the problems in Colorado with increased positive workplace marijuana tests, driving accidents, child hospitalization, and new 90% THC wax consumption.

“Furthermore, Dr. Gupta should be much clearer about his opposition to full legalization, which he has expressed to my colleagues and me several times recently, and he should also make a sharp division between the research separating smoked marijuana plant material and the data showing the medical efficacy of marijuana’s non-smoked components.

“For years, legalization advocates have admitted that they would ‘use medical marijuana as a red herring to give marijuana a good name.’ And today’s state-based medical marijuana system is broken and not endorsed by respected bodies like the American Medical Association. Peer-reviewed research shows that the average medical marijuana user is a 30-something white male without cancer, HIV, glaucoma, MS, or any terminal illness. In the states with the biggest programs – Colorado and California – “medical” marijuana candies and cookies are very cheaply sold and widely available.

“We should not be fooled into thinking marijuana will simultaneously cure cancer, end seizures, fund our government through revenues, and end crime. Yes, there are components contained in marijuana that have medical value, but it is not a panacea for all of our problems.”

First Month of Marijuana Tax Revenue in Colorado Falls Well Short of Expectations

Posted by on Mar 11, 2014 in Smart Policy | 0 comments

First Month of Marijuana Tax Revenue in Colorado Falls Well Short of Expectations

March 11, 2014 – [Denver, CO] – Today, Smart Approaches to Marijuana Co-Founders, Congressman Patrick J. Kennedy and Executive Director Dr. Kevin A. Sabet, released the following statement about marijuana tax revenue in Colorado:

“It appears that Colorado is falling well short of the state’s revenue projection from marijuana sales. Instead, the number from January is less than $2 million, far below estimates claimed by both the Governor and legalization advocates. Of course, just like alcohol and tobacco revenue, we know that the sales of this intoxicant will bring in far less than the costs of its use. In fact, every $1 in alcohol and tobacco revenue the state gains comes at a price of $10 in lost social costs. Already, legalization in Colorado has been characterized by children visiting hospital emergency rooms for marijuana poisonings from ‘pot cookies,’ increased marijuana use in schools, and a 40% increase in workplace and school drug tests, according to Conspire!, an independent testing company.

“Legalization in Colorado is turning into a very bad idea – a massive, for-profit business has boomed, with rampant advertising and commercialization abound. Colorado is now known for its pot more than for its mountains. And drug dealers are as prolific as ever. Is this a reputation anyone can be proud of?”

Mr. Kennedy, continued:

“I have devoted my life to mental health awareness and the establishment of a modern health system that recognizes the importance of preventing and treating mental illness. That is why I am extremely concerned about how America’s current rush toward marijuana legalization, however, could increase our health problems by allowing a permissive environment for addiction.”

SAM, medical associations, anti-drug coalitions call on DOJ for marijuana to remain Schedule 1 & and for more government research of the drug

Posted by on Mar 5, 2014 in Smart Policy | 0 comments

SAM, MEDICAL ASSOCIATIONS & ANTI-DRUG COALITIONS SEND LETTER TO U.S. DOJ CALLING FOR MARIJUANA TO REMAIN AS A SCHEDULE I DRUG & MORE GOVERNMENT RESEARCH ON ITS MEDICAL COMPONENTS

Over ten major organizations join Smart Approaches to Marijuana in pressing the DOJ not to reschedule marijuana; coalition calls for the government to increase research on the drug’s medical components

WASHINGTON, DC – On the heels of a House Subcommittee hearing on marijuana that took place yesterday, The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM), the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (CASAColumbia), the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America (CADCA), the Institute for Behavior and Health, the Partnership at Drugfree.org, and many others joined Smart Approaches to Marijuana today in a letter (attached below) addressed to major federal agencies, including the U.S. Department of Justice and Department of Health and Human Services. The letter reiterates the group’s united stance against the rescheduling of marijuana, but also calls for renewed efforts to vigorously study marijuana’s components for the development of non-smoked, marijuana-based medications.

“We don’t need to reschedule marijuana in order to facilitate research,” remarked SAM Executive Director Kevin A. Sabet, who formerly served as a senior adviser in the Obama Administration. “But the government should do a better job at promoting and facilitating unobstructed research into components of marijuana. Particularly for seizures and cancer pain, we must open new avenues for people to enter research programs and get standardized medications immediately.”

The signatories maintain that rescheduling marijuana would do very little to directly improve criminal laws affecting marijuana-related offenses, since marijuana already carries lighter sentences than any other illicit drug, both federally and on the state level, and that it is unnecessary for facilitating research on the drug.

Instead, the letter calls for breaking down other barriers to research, for instance by relaxing storage requirements for components of marijuana used in the context of an FDA Investigational New Drug (IND) program.

The letter expresses deep concern about the rapidly increasing normalization of marijuana among children and adolescents, and about recent statements made by Members of Congress diminishing the harms and dangers of marijuana use. The letter was also sent to Members of Congress.

View the letter.

The Post and Courier: A safer, smarter NFL medical marijuana plan doesn’t include smoking

Posted by on Mar 4, 2014 in SAM in the News | 0 comments

By Gene Sapakoff, February 22, 2014

Never mind that Roger Goodell didn’t officially open the door to medical marijuana use within a National Football League beset with concussion controversy. The drive-by mention by the NFL commissioner at the Super Bowl struck a chord. Pro football players, agents and media types continue to chime in, most without scientific input.

Before this goes too far – indeed before the notion of pot as concussion treatment trickles into a serious college football discussion – it might be beneficial to seek actual medical facts.

Evaluate real research.

Consult physicians.

That way Goodell, NFL players and others will know things about marijuana before they think seriously about chasing football’s head injury crisis with another health problem as bad or worse.

Such as:

“Marijuana indeed has medical value, but we don’t need to smoke it any more than we need to smoke opium to receive the benefits of morphine,” said Dr. Kevin A. Sabet, Director of the Drug Policy Institute at the University of Florida.

Sabet is a board member for Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM), a physician-heavy organization aiming to shape public policy with science.

“Marijuana’s medical utility lies, according to the Institute of Medicine, in its ‘components,’ ” Sabet said this week. “As such, components should be turned into properly dosed, standardized, replicated medications – a standard that smoked marijuana could never achieve.”

THC, marijuana’s active ingredient, has already been synthesized into a pill called Marinol that is available in pharmacies.

“Other medications are on the horizon,” Sabet said.

A recent Northwestern University study shows the marijuana-related brain abnormalities are correlated with a poor working memory performance and look similar to schizophrenia-related brain abnormalities. That’s not what we want for ex-football players likely to have enough physical problems.

The authoritative American Medical Association thinks medical marijuana research is incomplete, a spokesperson said this week. It officially calls for “well-controlled studies of marijuana and related cannabinoids.” But the AMA stresses that is does not endorse “state-based medical cannabis programs, the legalization of marijuana, or that scientific evidence on the therapeutic use of cannabis meets the current standards for a prescription drug product.”

Football pain, drugs

Goodell’s marijuana comments were quite cautious.

“We will follow medicine, and if they determine this could be a proper usage in any context, we will consider that,” the commissioner said. “Our experts are not saying that right now.”

Some NFL players already use pot for medical purposes, Pittsburgh Steelers safety Ryan Clark said on ESPN’s “First Take.”

“A lot of it is stress relief. A lot of it is pain and medication,” Clark said. “Guys feel like, ‘If I can do this, it keeps me away from maybe Vicodin, it keeps me away from pain prescription drugs and things that guys get addicted to.’ ”

Not a huge surprise within a league heavily populated by guys in their 20s.

No question, pain is a very serious issue among current and, as importantly, former NFL players. America’s rampant painkiller addiction problem is something the NFL and NCAA have shamefully ignored. The immediate issue – a hurting player looking for relief – must be addressed with more attention than the NFL gives its Pro Bowl format.

But the league and its coaches walk a thin line between a legitimate concern that’s been in short supply and pandering to an audience including young people delighted to find good excuses to get high.

That didn’t keep Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll from saying medical marijuana is something the NFL should consider.

“I would say that we have to explore and find ways to make our game a better game and take care of our players in whatever way possible,” Carroll said when asked about the issue during Super Bowl week. “Regardless of what other stigmas might be involved, we have to do this because the world of medicine is doing this.”

More pot, less IQ

Carroll knows a lot about football, and how to prepare a team to dominate the Super Bowl.

But what “world of medicine” is he talking about?

The world in which a 2013 National Institute of health survey found that only 39.5 percent of 12th graders thought marijuana was harmful?

Studies from experts such as Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)?

She says <URL destination=”">IQ points drop with regular pot use.

</URL>NFL management and players rarely agree. But they can probably agree that safer is better, particularly when treating brains already knocked around in Super Bowls and elsewhere.

Sometimes mixing alphabet organizations spells progress. The NFL should start working with SAM, NIDA and the AMA on sound pain-relief policy.

“I would love to work with the hard working people who make the NFL what it is,” Sabet said.

The football folks should expect helpful straight talk.

“I don’t think anyone serious about football has truly considered marijuana use as a solution to anything,” Sabet said. “Marijuana addiction – and concussions – are both brain injuries that require proper medical attention. No one sensible would want to treat one tragedy – of concussions – with something else that also harms the brain, like marijuana.”

Switch to our mobile site