The smoke over medical marijuana

Fr. Tadeusz Pacholczyk

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: Past 25 years remembered, next 25 anticipated at More Than You Realize conference

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“Be not afraid!”

This was the rallying cry at the Aug. 11 More Than You Realize conference, echoing the very same call St. John Paul II gave exactly 25 years ago when he visited Denver for World Youth Day in 1993.

Over 5,000 faithful from across the Archdiocese of Denver filled the seats of the Budweiser Events Center in Loveland at what was the largest Catholic gathering in Colorado since WYD ’93. The all-day conference was presented in both English and Spanish tracks, featured a dynamic lineup of renowned Catholic speakers, and culminated in a powerful commissioning Mass.

The name More Than You Realize and consequently, the logo resembling an eyechart, stems from the idea that almost everything may appear a certain way at surface level, but upon closer inspection, it can be more than one realizes and seen in a different light. This is especially true when it comes to the Catholic Church.

Over 5,000 gathered at the Budweiser Events Center Aug. 11 for the More Than You Realize conference, which celebrated the last 25 years since World Youth Day in Denver and looked to the next 25. (Photo by Jason Weinrich)

In planning for nearly two years, pastors from each parish of the archdiocese hand-picked those parishioners and members of their community who they wished to attend the conference, which revolved around the idea of discipleship. Through engaging videos and talks given by speakers such as Chris Stefanick, Luis Soto and Dr. Edward Sri, attendees were invited to join a new movement of discipleship within the archdiocese, echoing the one sparked 25 years ago at World Youth Day.

“[I] had a great rejuvenating time at the More Than You Realize Conference,” said Alex Martinez, a parishioner at St. Pius X Parish. “I am excited to see the MTYR movement take shape.”

Brenda Garrett, a parishioner of the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception said, “It was an amazing event, so blessed my pastor Father Ron from the Cathedral Basilica sent me. I am so proud to be part of this movement.”

The key to evangelization

Cardinal J. Francis Stafford spoke before Mass began about the impact of World Youth Day 1993 and the challenges the Church faces today.

“What does the summer of ’93 teach us about our present circumstances in 2018?” the cardinal asked. “The Holy Spirit was sent out in a special mission to our Church in 1993. The power of that sending was unexpected and disorienting to me as archbishop and to most others.”

Cardinal J. Francis Stafford speaks during the More Than You Realize conference. (Photo by Jason Weinrich)

But despite urban violence, threats of boycotts, organized protests and other issues prior to World Youth Day 1993, “a fundamental change took place in the Church of Denver,” said Cardinal Stafford, “but not only here — among the young people who came throughout the world, [and] even the Holy Father.

“Above all, our Church was transformed,” he said.

Cardinal Stafford said that to evangelize those who don’t know the Gospel, we first need “…a deep awareness of the delight of the Father taking in each of us as baptized men and women,” he said.

“I would urge you to think deeply and to pray deeply about realizing how delighted God is in you — each of you — because you are received by the Father as being [part of] the body of his Son, who is beloved.”

‘Jesus is much more than you realize’

In his homily given in both English and Spanish, Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila also touched on what World Youth Day 1993 means for us today.

“The world likes to tell us many things about ourselves,” he said, “and not many of them today are good or uplifting. Just look at the distorted image of beauty that is prevalent today, let alone the distortions of what it means to be a human person…

“The devil is certainly having a field day in a world that has abandoned God, and even in some members of the Church who have a weak faith in Jesus,” he said.

But despite similar issues taking place in 1993, the pope brought to Denver a message of hope.

Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila celebrates the commissioning Mass that closed out the conference. (photo by Andrew Wright)

“When St. John Paul II spoke to the youth gathered for the prayer vigil on Saturday night at Cherry Creek State Park, he reminded them that God and a much bigger role for them to play in history,” said Archbishop Aquila.

That message is just as important today, within an archdiocese and Church that stand at a crossroads, the archbishop said.

“We have an opportunity to make a major impact for Jesus Christ, even as the surrounding culture is becoming less Christian.”

The pope opened the doors for those who attended to become greater disciples of Christ — not just directly after World Youth Day, but forever.

“St. John Paul II believed in retrospect that a revolution had taken place in Denver,” said the archbishop. “We, today, are the inheritors of this spiritual revolution, and we must not be afraid to put out into the deep to let our nets down for a catch.

“Jesus is much more than you realize. The Church is more than you realize. And your role in the plan of God is much more than you realize or [can] even imagine,” he said.

“And so, I beg you as your shepherd today to open your hearts to Jesus and speak heart-to-heart with him who loves you most.”

Aaron Lambert, Moira Cullings and Vladimir Mauricio-Perez contributed to this report.