The smoke over medical marijuana

A comprehensive 2015 scientific review found medical marijuana to be useful only for a small number of medical conditions. Writing in the Journal of the American Medical Association, an international team of researchers found scant evidence to support broad claims for the drug’s effectiveness. Although clinical trials showed that chronic neuropathic pain and cancer-related pain could often be treated, other forms of pain, such as those related to rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, HIV and multiple sclerosis did not show statistically significant improvement. Researchers also found inconclusive data for people with insomnia, anxiety disorders, depression, Tourette syndrome, psychosis, and sleep disorders. They registered concerns about medical marijuana’s significant side effects as well.

Yale University researchers, commenting on the review, noted how the approval process for medical marijuana in U.S. states and jurisdictions has often been based on “low-quality scientific evidence, anecdotal reports, individual testimonials, legislative initiatives, and public opinion.” They raised concerns around the fact that medical marijuana seems to be receiving “special status” and is being “fast-tracked” for legalization, when it should instead be subject to the standard scientific verifications of the FDA approval process to assure its efficacy and safety. The Yale authors offered this corrective: “Imagine if other drugs were approved through a similar approach… If the goal is to make marijuana available for medical purposes, then it is unclear why the approval process should be different from that used for other medications.”

In his influential exposé Marijuana Debunked, Dr. Ed Gogek emphasizes how the idea of medical marijuana “didn’t come from doctors, or patient advocacy groups, or public health organizations, or the medical community. The ballot initiatives for medical marijuana laws were sponsored and promoted by pro-legalization groups.” These groups have used the medical marijuana trump card to grease the skids for the acceptance of recreational marijuana. This pincer movement has enabled them to control and reap the windfall from an extensive system of dispensaries that supply and distribute addictive substances. Even if recreational marijuana does not ultimately become legalized in a particular jurisdiction, it is well documented that medical marijuana dispensaries often end up supplying the drug not for rare, valid medical uses, but for substance abuse, similar to the situation with opioid pain medications.

Yet the push for marijuana continues unabated. In May 2018, the New York State Comptroller, Scott Stringer, issued a report declaring that legalized marijuana in the Empire State would be a potential $3 billion market, with taxes from its sale generating a potential $436 million annually statewide, and $336 million for New York City. With such sums at play, not only are investors coming out of the woodwork, but towns and municipalities are also issuing ordinances and changing zoning laws to bring in the dispensaries. Indeed, dollar signs beckon, much as they once did for tobacco companies and plantation owners.

Besides being addictive and profitable, tobacco and marijuana have other similarities. Marijuana smoke contains harmful chemicals, with ammonia, benzene, toluene, and naphthalene levels in marijuana exceeding those found in tobacco smoke. These chemical components may contribute to emphysema, bronchial irritation and inflammation. Patients with medical conditions treatable by medical marijuana can avoid these toxic chemicals and other side effects by using more purified preparations containing only the active ingredients.

In 2003, the Institute of Medicine, a nonprofit, nongovernmental organization that evaluates medical issues, acknowledged that components of marijuana may have medicinal uses, and strongly recommended the development of prescription cannabinoid medicines based on those components: “If there is any future for marijuana as a medicine, it lies in its isolated components, the cannabinoids and their synthetic derivatives.” Several different cannabinoid medications have been developed in recent years, and these medicines work as well as or better than marijuana, have fewer side effects, and are less likely to be abused. These drugs also tend to be effective in the body for longer periods.

Dr. Gogek notes the irony of the loud public outcry that would ensue if the FDA were to approve “a drug that had no advantage over safer alternatives, went mostly to substance abuse, increased teenage drug use, and killed people on the highways.” He concludes, “We should not be sidestepping the FDA approval process that was designed to protect us.”

In sum, the reality behind medical marijuana is far from the rosy view painted by advocates.  Marijuana is not “just a plant.” It is an addictive drug abused in epidemic proportions, inflicting a serious individual and societal toll. Its use as a medicine needs to be carefully regulated through standard scientific oversight and the FDA approval process, not handed over to recreational enthusiasts and opportunistic businessmen. The current practice of encouraging states and municipalities to legalize medical, and then recreational, marijuana, is, in the final analysis, neither reasonable nor ethical.

COMING UP: Did Christians ban the Games? Tales, myths and other fun facts about the ancient Olympics

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The 2020 Summer Olympics began less than a week ago, and as is usually the case, there’s been enough stunning athleticism, shocking upsets and yes, even a little bit of drama on display to keep the water cooler chatter abuzz until at least the 2022 games.

At their best, the Olympic games bridge cultural divides and unite countries around the world as the greatest living athletes around the globe compete for the coveted gold medal in their respective events. There’s a spirit of global camaraderie that welcomely comes about during every Olympiad; whether watching the Games at home with the family or going to a local bar to cheer on your favorite country, the Olympics bring people together in a way that most other sporting events do not.

Another astounding thing about the Olympics is how they’ve endured over the millennia. Indeed, they provide a special glimpse into the history of the world and those common qualities of humanity that will never die; namely, the need for both unitive, universal community and friendly but fierce competition.

The first recorded Olympic games took place in 776 B.C., though some historians speculate that they could have began as early as the 10th century B.C. The games were held every four years in Olympia to honor the greek god Zeus as one of four Panhellenic festivals, this one coinciding with the second full moon following the summer solstice, usually at the end of July or early August. The Olympics became so significant that the term Olympiad was used to mark a year the games took place, and became a common unit of historical time measurement.

Now, the ancient world wasn’t exactly known for its amicability or even peacefulness, as indicated by the countless wars and power usurpations that took place throughout its history. However, Olympic festivals were marked by a truce among the Greeks called ekecheiria, which roughly means “holding of hands.” This ensured safe travels for athletes and spectators as they made their way to the festival and was a common basis for peace among the Greeks. That the Olympic games could get even the constantly feuding Greeks to lay down their arms and come together in a spirit of solidarity speaks to their significance in ancient history.

Early Olympic events included the footrace, wrestling, the long jump, the javelin throw, the discus throw and boxing. Of course, it’s nigh impossible to read about the ancient Olympics and not come across epic tales of chariot racing, an event which was briefly banned early on but was reinstated by the first century B.C. and drew the interest of several key Roman figures (more on that later).

By the fifth century B.C., athletes from all over the Greek-speaking world came to Olympia for the games. The footrace, also called the Stade or Stadion, was considered the most prestigious event, and is where the english word “stadium” is derived from. Stade was a unit of measurement in ancient Greece which modern historians say is the rough equivalent to 600 feet or 200 yards, though the actual length has been a subject of debate for many years. Either way, it represents the length which runners in the Stadion ran to prove themselves as the fastest sprinters in the ancient world.

Interestingly, very little record about the Olympics games during the time of Christ exists. History tells us that the Roman emperor Tiberius, who was emperor during Christ’s life, won the chariot races during the 194th Olympiad in 4 B.C. In 17 A.D., the popular Roman general Germanicus, who was Tiberius’ adopted son and the future father of the third Roman Emperor Caligula, won the chariot races in 17 A.D., presumably around the time Christ was a teenager.

About those chariot races: they were known to attract elite political figures, some of whom won based on true skill, and others who only wanted the appearance of winning to further exert their power and status. During the 211th Olympiad, Emperor Nero, known for his fierce persecution of Christians and rather narcissistic personality, forcibly moved the Olympic games set to take place in 65 A.D. to 67 A.D. so he could compete while on a tour of Greece. He participated in the chariot races (with six more horses than the other competitors), and declared himself the greatest Olympic victor of all time, though historical eyewitness accounts tell a different story. Nero actually nearly died after a severe wreck, but Nero being Nero, he was still declared the winner.

Thankfully, Nero’s title as an Olympic victor and the Olympiad he “won,” which did not adhere to the established chronology of the games, were subsequently stricken from the official Olympic records after his death.

The Olympics grew over the course of 1,200 years until 393 A.D., when Emperor Theodosius I banned all Pagan festivals from the Roman emperor after Christianity became adopted as the state religion. Popular culture and history has long maintained this story of Christianity being to blame for the halt of the Olympic games. However, in recent years, some historians have disputed this account, saying that it was not for religious reasons but rather economic reasons that the games ended when they did. In fact, even after Theodosius’ death, there are still records of Olympic games taking place up until the fifth century. As the administration of Roman Empire evolved, the Olympics could no longer be sponsored by civil funds and instead became sponsored more and more by rich elites of the time. Simply put, the games became too expensive, and no one wanted to pay for them anymore.

The Olympics did not make a return for 1,500 years, until the Athens Olympics in 1896. Over the last 125 years since their reinstatement, the Games have become an integral piece of modern culture and a remnant of ancient history that was revived to great avail. As the Olympics in Tokyo continue over the next week and athletes compete for the gold, the words of St. Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians serve as a pertinent reminder of how the spirit of an Olympian imitates closely that of a Christian:

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified” (1 Cor 9:24-27).

So let the Games continue! And may the race be run not for a perishable prize, but an imperishable one.


Featured photo: Met Museum, Terracotta Panathenaic prize amphora (jar), ca. 510 B.C. Attributed to the Leagros Group.