Would a National Medical Marijuana Market Allow Smoking? Don't Hold Your Breath.
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One exciting development that the United States could see this year in terms of marijuana is a less restrictive attitude toward medicinal use. As part of the party’s campaign platform in the 2020 election, the Democrats, which are set to control the majority in Congress, revealed that “we will support legalization of medical marijuana.”
Although the statement is vague and could mean many things, the federal government is expected to make moves this year to further medical cannabis. Only we wouldn’t hold our breath on Americans being able to consume it by smoking.
Smoking is, by far, the most common consumption method for a lot of cannabis users. Rolling a joint or packing a bowl is just how medicating was done before legalization began to take hold across the country and bring to life a wealth of new products. Still, even with the advent of edibles, drinks and capsules, many people still enjoy smoking. And most don’t think it poses a significant health risk either. They believe that smoking marijuana is far safer than smoking cigarettes because it doesn’t contain all of the harsh chemicals used by the tobacco companies. However, recent studies show this claim is more myth than fact. Marijuana smoke may be just as harmful.
Researchers at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston recently determined that marijuana smokers are putting themselves at just as much risk as those who use tobacco. Their study, published in the journal EClinicalMedicine, shows cannabis smokers have higher concentrations of dangerous toxins like naphthalene, acrylamide and acrylonitrile in their system than non-smokers. These chemicals have been linked to anemia, liver and neurological issues, not to mention cancer.
The results are alarming considering that cancer patients often use marijuana to treat their symptoms.
“The increase has renewed concerns about the potential health effects of marijuana smoke, which is known to contain some of the same toxic combustion products found in tobacco smoke,” lead study author Dr. Dana Gabuzda told CNN. “This is the first study to compare exposure to acrolein and other harmful smoke-related chemicals over time in exclusive marijuana smokers and tobacco smokers, and to see if those exposures are related to cardiovascular disease.”
At the federal level, the incoming Biden Administration is expected to expand medical marijuana research. If there is one aspect of the cannabis legalization scheme that continues to throw advocates and naysayers for a loop, it’s the lack of hard evidence showing the potential risks and benefits of this plant. Congressional Democrats have already laid the groundwork to make nationwide medical marijuana research more accessible and effective.
The U.S. House of Representatives recently passed the Medical Marijuana Research Act (MMRA), which would allow scientists to study cannabis at the magnitude needed to provide Americans with the truth on cannabis-based medicine. As it stands, federal law makes it difficult for research teams to dig into this subject. It also makes it harder for them to get their hands on quality research reefer. The bill could soon go before the Senate in the new session and then President-elect Biden.
But even without enough Congressional votes to pass medical marijuana reform — no matter what that might be — Biden himself can make some crucial changes. The President can order his Health Secretary to launch an extensive cannabis review for the purpose of getting it downgraded on the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). Marijuana is a Schedule I dangerous drug — the same as heroin — but Biden has discussed changing it to a Schedule II to open up more research opportunities.
But what does this have to do with smoking?
It doesn’t seem likely, given the times, that a Biden Administration focused on expanding medical marijuana research or even legalizing it for medicinal use would ever recommend smoking as the best method for consumption. Considering the governmental infrastructure already in place, any plans to allow medical marijuana to be regulated by federal health agencies would likely include the pharmaceutical companies.
Biden isn’t going to unleash the cannabis plant in a way that gives people the freedom to smoke it under the guise of medicine. Especially with some of the research that has come out over the years, including the latest study from the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, suggesting that marijuana smoke can cause health issues.
We’re not saying that statewide medical marijuana plans will eliminate smoking anytime soon — that’s a state’s prerogative. But a federally-regulated medical cannabis concept is probably going to look more like every other prescription-based medicine available on the market.
GW Pharmaceuticals is a prime example. The FDA approved its cannabis-based drug Epidiolex a few years ago to treat two rare kinds of seizure disorders. The drug, which is available by prescription only, is an oral medication consisting of the non-intoxicating component of the cannabis plant, cannabidiol. As the federal government becomes less restrictive about cannabis, potentially downgrading its listing on the CSA, we will see Big Pharma swooping in to take advantage.
But smoking won’t be part of the plan. Not unless the federal government moves to legalize it for recreational use.