, ,

Advocates for the legalization of marijuana claim that the drug has medicinal properties that could be used to combat insomnia and nausea, claims which are apparently well-established in medical studies as well as the anecdotal evidence from just about everyone who has smoked pot.  Preliminary findings indicate that cannabis-based drugs could also prove useful in alleviating chronic pain from Crohn’s disease, fibromyalgia, and related conditions.  But also, researchers from the University of California San Diego reported in 2008 that smoking marijuana has the potential to reduce muscle spasticity in multiple sclerosis (MS) patients. Furthermore more, the active ingredient in marijuana, THC, has been shown in another study to reduce neuropathy in MS patients.  And a 2011 study at the University of California San Francisco suggests administering the cannabinoids found in medical marijuana along with opiates to patients suffering from chronic pain can provide greater pain relief with the added benefit of reducing the long-term dependency on opiates.  Further research into the medical benefits of smoking marijuana is necessary to confirm or refute the validity of these reports.

However, scientists have met with many bureaucratic and legal roadblocks to conducting research into medicinal uses of marijuana; in 1970, the US Congress voted to classify cannabis under Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act along with heroin, LSD, and peyote.  In 2005 the Supreme Court ruled that the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution allowed the government to ban the use of medical cannabis and the FDA has stated that “marijuana has a high potential for abuse, has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States, and has a lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision”.

This is table that shows the criteria for the Controlled Substances Act.

Yet, many states (and the District of Columbia) have steeply reduced the penalties for medical marijuana, effectively decriminalized it, or have legalized its use since California became the first state to legalize medical marijuana: Alaska, Connecticut,  Delaware,  Hawaii,  Maine,  Michigan, Montana,  Nevada,  New Jersey,  New Mexico,  Oregon,  Rhode Island,  Vermont, Virginia,  Washington and Washington D.C. The federal and state governments of the United states remain divisive to some extent on the issue of medical marijuana.

Curiously, while some religious leaders expressly forbid the use of marijuana, some faiths hold religious ceremonies that incorporate marijuana.  Perhaps, most readers would recognize the importance of ganja in Rastafarianism; practitioners of this faith smoke marijuana in religious ceremonies as a way to gain spiritual clarity.  But Rastafarians aren’t the only faiths to embrace cannabis. Some Sufis aspire to commune personally with God, and it is believed that cannabis is used as a gateway to God.  And, course, there are those modern faiths that revolve the ritual consumption of cannabis.  The THC Ministry, established by Roger Christie considers cannabis to be a sacrament as does the Walter Tucker-founded Church of the Universe.  In the East, the Way of Infinite Harmony is a Taoist sect that worships the Goddess of Hemp, Ma Gu.

In the Brazilian rainforest, indigenous cultures have adopted a syncretic religion based on African animism and South American shamanism called Santo Daime. Marijuana is also used in some religious practices by some followers of Sebastiao Mota de Melo.  At the death of Santo Daime’s founder, Raimundo Irineu, Sebastiao Mota de Melo, commonly called Padrinho Sebastiao (Father Sebastian), left the church with a group of his followers, and formed a group known as CEFLURIS (Eclectical Center of the Universal Flowing Light).  The church of Santo Daime headed into a schism over the use of marijuana wherein most followers have heeded Mestre Irineu’s original doctrine and have eschewed the smoking of marijuana.  However, both groups are united in their ritual practice of drinking ayahuasca, brewed by their shamans for religious ceremonies.  Ayahuasca is brewed from a mixture of the caapi vine and one of any number of naturally occurring psychedelic plants.  These psychedelic plants contain a chemical called dimethyltryptamine (DMT) that induces hallucinations.  According to the  psychopharmacology research of Rick Strassman, “(A) Dimethyltryptamine dose (administered to a patient) slightly elevated blood pressure, heart rate, pupil diameter, and rectal temperature, in addition to elevating blood concentrations of beta-endorphin, corticotropin, cortisol, and prolactin. Growth hormone blood levels rose equally in response to all doses of DMT, and melatonin levels were unaffected.”

Research into the effects of DMT haven’t yielded much yet as to its long-term physical or psychological effects.  It is widely known that humans produce infinitesimally small amounts of DMT found in blood, urine, and cerebrospinal fluid.  Some scientists have made the hypothesis that in near death experiences, humans release massive amounts of DMT into their blood stream, perhaps synthesized in the pineal gland, triggering out of body experiences or other religious episodes. Unfortunately, these studies have not been published yet; lamentably, we cannot say as to whether or not this is an example of how some religious episodes can arise.  And like marijuana, DMT is classified as a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, so research into the effects of this drugs is likely similarly stalled in bureaucratic red tape.

I, for one, see the classification of some drugs like DMT and marijuana as Schedule I drugs as an incredibly restrictive policy because of the potential for clinical research that is denied by this law.  Research into the medical benefits of marijuana could lead to breakthroughs in the treatment of diseases like multiple sclerosis and fibromyalgia.  And research into DMT could potentially teach us more about the nature of out-of-body experiences or the origin of religious experiences.  Clearly, Schedule I Drugs like heroin are rightfully categorized as a dangerous drug.  Drugs like marijuana placed under the Controlled Substance Act as Schedule I have been deemed to have “no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States”, which clearly is not the case for cannabis.  Yet the use of DMT has been granted only to those who imbibe ayahuasca on religious grounds, while it’s denied to those who use it for research purposes.  It’s high time to amend our drug laws.