MARGARET WARNER: Now, Dr. Lester Grinspoon, a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, who conducts research on substance abuse. He also has written two books on the medical use of marijuana, the most recent being Marijuana, The Forbidden Medicine. Welcome, Dr. Grinspoon.
DR. LESTER GRINSPOON, Harvard Medical School: (Boston) Thank you.
MARGARET WARNER: Your reaction, your assessment of this move by the administration today.
DR. LESTER GRINSPOON: Well, I think it's mistaken. The fact is the government is having a very difficult time accepting the fact that marijuana is useful, very useful as a medicine, that it is remarkably safe compared to many of the medicines, the conventional medicines it will displace, that it is very versatile. Like penicillin, it has many uses, everything from the symptomatic treatment of glaucoma and nausea and vomiting, of cancer chemotherapy to migraine, epilepsy, weight reduction syndrome of AIDS, et cetera, et cetera, and thirdly, once it becomes available as a medicine and is free of the prohibition tariff, it will be unusually inexpensive for a medicine. So that--and there is just no question that the American people are as they see this, as they have experience with marijuana as a medicine, are becoming increasingly convinced. And, furthermore, doctors who are usually--doctors are getting a drug education about marijuana in a most unusual way.
Usually doctors learn about new medicines from articles in journals and economically-driven promotional material of the drug companies. In this case, since it's not a drug that the drug companies are interested in and the drug companies don't support the research that needs to be done with respect to this medicine, as they do for all the medicines that come into use in this country, those articles and that promotional material is not available. The way doctors are learning about marijuana is through their patients. For example, an AIDS patient, he and his doctor have been struggling with his loss of weight, the weight reduction syndrome. He learns about marijuana and what it can do here. He tries it. He comes in to his doctor's office, and he says, look, Doctor, I've discovered a way that I can actually not only stop losing weight but actually gain a few pounds, let me get on your scale and show you. Once he's done that the doctor is convinced, and the doctor may very well tell his other patients.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Dr. Grinspoon, what do you think is going to be the practical effect of today's announcement, however, on doctors in that situation?
DR. LESTER GRINSPOON: Well, I think that it may intimidate some doctors. I received a fax today from a doctor or about a doctor in California who had recommended marijuana but because of his lawyer urged him, if he didn't want to lose his DEA license that he should send registered letters to those people withdrawing this recommendation. That would be most unfortunate, but I think many doctors, perhaps most, like myself, will when it is clearly the best medicine for a patient to use, will continue to recommend, of course, telling the patient that it's illegal, cautioning the patient that he cannot use it in circumstances where, for example, he couldn't use liquor or, for that matter, Valium, that we will continue to recommend marijuana where it is appropriate.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, you heard General McCaffrey say, however, that the AMA, American Medical Association, is supportive of this administration action. How do you explain that?
DR. LESTER GRINSPOON: Well, you know, it's interesting. I think the AMA is having a little bit of a crisis--an identity crisis about this. Fifty years ago in 1937, Dr. Woodward was the one dissenting voice in front of the committee--the Congressional committee which had the hearings on the Marijuana Tax Act, the first of the draconian legislation against marijuana. And then the AMA went into a period of--until pretty much the present time--where they were allied with the government about marijuana. But, in fact, a year ago last June the Journal of the American Medical Association published a piece by myself and James B. Backalar urging doctors to reconsider marijuana to take a lesson from their 19th century forbearers who used marijuana as a medicine, and to reconsider its usefulness in a modern light. Now that we know that aspirin and the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and acetaminophen, these drugs, for example, which are used in osteoarthritis for pain, there's a price attached. People die from the use of these drugs. No one has ever died from an overdose of cannabis.
MARGARET WARNER: Let me ask you to explain briefly, because we are just about out of time, today at the press conference, General McCaffrey and Donna Shalala, Secretary of HHS, all said that there were--and this is not an exact quote--but that there are--there's not a body of scientific evidence and accepted studies that demonstrate all this anecdotal evidence that some of you doctors feel you've seen, or have seen. Why is that? Why is this still such an open question?
DR. LESTER GRINSPOON: Well, first of all, they are wrong in saying that. There is a lot of evidence. There are some controlled studies, not many. There were the studies that came out of the states in the 70's, when it was possible, for example, 250 patients in New Mexico were studied using it for cancer chemo--for the nausea and vomiting of cancer chemotherapy. Secondly, there are a large number of--of one studies, both coming from Europe and this country. And thirdly, anecdotal evidence is evidence it's not as good as the other evidence, but medicine, medicine developed long before anybody knew about the double blind control study. Dugs like, for example, chararra, aspirin, penicillin, insulin, barbiturates, to name a few, came into medicine practice long before there was any such thing as a so-called scientific, if one is using the word "scientific," to equate with large double blind control clinical studies.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Well, Dr. Grinspoon, thank you very much. We have to leave it there.