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NORML conference reports from Denver w/ Dr. Alan Schackelford, Dr. Ethan Nadelmann + Phil Smith of Drug War Chronicle & Keith Stoup of NORML
Century of Lies / April 24, 2011
Dean Becker: From Denver, Colorado this is Century of Lies.
( music )
Johnny Denver: This is your boy, Johnny Denver. I’m chillin’ in the new chronic capital, my home town Denver Colorado. We got over 500 dispensaries in Denver alone. 30 miles away in Boulder there’s another 200. From the New Amsterdam…
Chorus: Denver’s the New Amsterdam.
Johnny Denver: Smokin’ blunts, growin trees…500 dispensaries. And you know it ain’t the Cali ‘Dro. I’m from the Chronic Capital…
( music fades )
Dean Becker: Of course, that has to be New Amsterdam by Sweet 16s. This is, indeed, Century of Lies. I’m Dean Becker. I’ll be reporting on the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws Conference held in Denver Colorado.
As noted on the Cultural Baggage show, I have more than a dozen hours from this conference. Really wonderful gathering of thought, people and knowledge. We already began our coverage with the thoughts of Dr. David Bearman but now we’re going to jump with both feet onto the logic and the mindset and the laws of the federal government.
On the last day of the conference, a panel was held titled, “Marijuana: Physicians and Researchers Perspectives and Experiences.” The moderator is Paul Armentano of NORML who will introduce Dr. Alan Shackelford. Here’s a slice from the speech you’re fixin’ to hear folks, please, please pay attention.
Dr. Alan Shackelford: Now, I’m going to speak briefly about the clinical experience and the research that supports our clinical experience in those five medical conditions; Alzheimer’s disease, Lou Gehrig’s disease (Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), Rheumatoid Arthritis, Multiple sclerosis and cancer. We see patients with all of these medical conditions.
Paul Armentano: Our next panelist is Dr. Alan Shackelford. When we were holding this conference, here in Denver, and were talking about putting physicians and researchers on a panel so many people from the local Denver area said, “You can’t do a panel like this without having Alan Shackelford on this panel.”
I met him for the first time this weekend. Uh, he told me he’s been researching and engaged in medical marijuana practice for the last year and a half but we look at his CV, this is somebody who’s been involved in studying and the practice of medicine now for forty some-odd-years. And he’s going to come up here and share his knowledge with you.
And I asked him specifically to talk about - David talked a lot about the symptomatic relief that can be found from marijuana - I asked Alan to also share his comments and his expertise about what he’s seen about the potential disease moderating effects of marijuana as a medicine.
So please welcome to the microphone Dr. Alan Shackelford.
Dr. Alan Shackelford: Thank you very much. It’s a real honor and privilege to speak to you today and to be on this dais with this remarkable collection of experts. When we started our practice of Cannabis medicine about a year and a half ago, Amarimed of Colorado, we began to see truly remarkable benefit from – in a wide variety of different medical conditions. We have seen patients benefit from the use of Cannabis in all of these medical conditions including all the things that Dr. Bearman spoke about. It is absolutely remarkable to see an 80-something-year-old woman who told her grandson that she was ready to die go back to gardening when she started using tincture. A few drops at bedtime. It’s a phenomenal effect that I have not seen using prescription medications. In part because of the many side effects that prescription medicines have.
There have been 20,000 or so studies done on Cannabis. It’s extremely interesting to note that there was a peek of research, kind of in the 60’s, 70’s. It kind of dropped off, with the discovery of the endocannabinoid it began to explode exponentially.
What’s very interesting though about this number of studies is that, in fact, many of them are basic science studies - laboratory studies of animals. And I think it’s important to contrast the number of studies (20,000 is quite impressive) with the number of studies that are actually clinical trials now ongoing, recruiting patients or recently concluded.
There’s a great website, clinicaltrials.gov, administered by the NIH and the FDA, that shows currently there are currently 106,263 clinical trials ongoing worldwide. Of them, 54,000 are in the United States. Of those, if you go to their wonderful search engine you’ll see (and put in marijuana and United States) there are 227 clinical trials out of 54,000.
59 of them address the question of marijuana dependency (addiction) and they look at medications and therapy to reduce the symptoms of withdrawal. 16 of those studies are on pain. If you go worldwide, and allow this search engine to look at clinical trials there are 347 out of 106, 000. 44 on pain, 31 on Cancer, 5 on Alzheimer's. And the only one that really addressed any symptoms of Alzheimer's was one study using Dronabinol or Marinol to look at its effects on muscle spasms.
Spokeswoman for NIDA (National Institute on Drug Abuse) was quoted in the New York Times on January 19th, 2010 to say, “As the National Institute on Drug Abuse our focus is primarily on the negative consequences of marijuana use. We generally do not fund research on the potential, beneficial medical effects of marijuana.”
The kicker here is that NIDA funds 85% of world’s research into substances like marijuana. So it’s not really a surprise that out of 106,000 studies there are 347 that really address marijuana.
Now, I’m going to speak briefly about the clinical experience and the research that supports our clinical experience in those five medical conditions; Alzheimer’s disease, Lou Gehrig’s disease (Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), Rheumatoid Arthritis, Multiple sclerosis and cancer. We see patients with all of these medical conditions.
Let’s look for a moment at Alzheimer’s disease. There are five and a half million patients in the United States with Alzheimer’s, 35 million or so worldwide. It is a very, very interesting medical problem. The numbers will triple, probably, in the next 10-20 years. The prevalence is remarkable. 50% of the people over 85 will develop Alzheimer’s disease. Now it’s thought to be, in part, genetically determined. There’s a gene called APOE that is in some way involved in oxidative processes and inflammation.
Now, we don’t really understand exactly the mechanism in Alzheimer’s, but, what’s really interesting is that there are abnormal levels of this very powerful antioxidant called superoxide dismutase which also seems to be involved in in Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Now, it causes the loss of neurons and synapses, basically the brain just sort of stops working because there are, there are, um, the neurons go away and plaques develop. These are, in part, due to deposits of beta amyloid along with tangles of a protein called TAL.
There have been a number of studies on this particular problem. One of which, an early study published in the proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 1998 showed that cannabinoids and THC are neuroprotective antioxidants. That’s remarkable. Because no one has really shown, really conclusively, that these antioxidants can have an effect on the development of Alzheimer’s. They - this is a rather complex slide – the thing that’s really important here is to note that Cannabidiol was more protective against glutamate toxicity than either Vitamin A, I’m sorry, Vitamin C or Vitamin E saying that it is a potent antioxidant. And they also say that the data suggests naturally occurring, nonphyscotropic Cannabidiol may be a potential useful therapeutic agent for the treatment of cerebral ischemia and other neurological disorders.
So what do you with research findings like that?! You patent them. And that’s what they did.
The United States patent was issued on October 7th, 2003, patent number 663507. The title of this is fascinating stuff; Cannabinoids as Antioxidants and Neuroprotectants. And what they basically said was is that this stuff found in Cannabis could prevent Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson’s disease and the dementia associated with HIV infection. They go on to say that they are such powerful neuroprotectants that they could prevent damage to the central neural system from trauma or stroke or loss of blood flow.
What’s really interesting is the United States of America is the owner of this patent in the name of the Department of Health and Human Services. So if somebody ever says to you, “Well the government says it has no medical utility.” There’s your answer – they own a patent on it.
Further research shows that Alzheimer’s disease, and it substantiates what they were saying, could be prevented by the use of cannabinoids. Cannabinoids are neuroprotective agents against um…basically what Dr. Bearman was talking about which is this stuff called glutamate that causes deterioration in the nervous system. Now this study is interesting, it says the results indicate that cannabinoid receptors are important in the pathology of Alzheimer's disease and they can succeed in preventing the neurodegenerative process.
Another study in 2006 shows that the active component of marijuana, Delta-9 THC, competitively inhibits the enzyme acetylcholinesterase. Now what that does is it goes in and destroys the neurotransmitters and that ultimately ends up – potentially anyway – in the development of Alzheimer’s disease. They say the study provides a previously unrecognized molecular mechanism through this cannabinoid molecule, directly impacting the progression of this debilitating disease. We have seen that in Alzheimer’s patients. People who use cannabis don’t progress as quickly down that road to complete debilitation and death. It’s really quite remarkable.
British Journal of Pharmacology, this is a bunch of sort of scientific stuff, but the evidence in this study supports a potential role for the cannabinoid system as a therapeutic target for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.
Dean Becker: You are listening to the Century of Lies on the Drug Truth Network on Pacifica Radio. I am Dean Becker reporting from Denver, the NORML conference, and this panel we are listening to is Marijuana: Physicians and Researchers Perspectives and Experiences the speaker is Dr. Alan Shackelford.
Dr. Alan Shackelford: Now ALS is a motor neuron disease, this is Lou Gehrig’s disease, this is a progressive disease - invariably fatal, or thought to be. What’s interesting about all of this is that, again, glutamate may play a role so may superoxide dismutase abnormalities but people who use marijuana seem not to go down that road as quickly. There are people who have survived with ALS for 15 years. The death rate for ALS is really 3-5 years typically. Some people live as long as 10. Nobody lives as long as 15 apparently unless they are using marijuana.
There are a number of studies, this particular one from 2003, says that marijuana essentially blocks this excitotoxicity - meaning that it may actually prevent the development of ALS in people who are susceptible to it. It’s also a neuroprotectant , meaning that if you are susceptible to it and there are familial forms, you should be using marijuana. Because it can potentially prevent the disease from developing in you like it did in all of your ancestors.
Now we have an ALS patient who was failing all of the prescription drugs and he is thriving. It is absolutely remarkable. Now ALS is really not that common but to be able to treat it is a tremendous treat for a physician instead of standing by and watching then die.
Now, this is interesting, 2001 a study in Seattle, they conclude, in areas where it is legal to do so, marijuana should be considered in the pharmacological management of ALS. Meaning, if you got an ALS patient – get him on pot. I think that goes without saying.
Now rheumatoid arthritis is a disease that affects millions of people – 1% of the world’s population. Women are affected 3 times more than men. It’s a chronic, inflammatory process and it usually attacks the joints. Now you may have seen people with severely deformed hands - that’s rheumatoid arthritis. There has really been nothing that works really well. There are all these different medications now being sold on television and the list of potential side effects lasts half the advertisement and it ends in, “Oh, it could cause death.”
And it causes death by suppressing the immune system allowing infections to kind of take over. Now cannabis has been shown, through CBD and combined immunosuppressant effects and its anti-inflammatory actions to be a potent anti-arthritic effect in an animal model. This was done in Britain.
So they took this into people and they found… the conclusion in (?), the first ever controlled trial of a cannabinoid medicine, a significant analgesic effect and suppression of disease activity. Meaning that marijuana stops rheumatoid arthritis in that study.
Multiple sclerosis affects about 500,000 people in the United States. A study done, 12-month study done in Britain – that’s this one – they concluded that cannabis could slow the neurodegenerative that makes multiple sclerosis what it is. So, now they have a very large study ongoing in Britain that they will have the results out in 2012 to see if, in fact, cannabis can stop the progression.
Now it’s very interesting, we have a patient who gets regular MRIs of his brain. And he came rushing back to our office saying that his neurologist could not believe that the lesions in his brain were going away. Again, fascinating stuff. Now that’s the Cupid Study that’s being done in Britain.
Now cancer…there are…the European Union is projected to have 1.281 million deaths in 2011 from cancer, United States 569,000, 7.6 million people die worldwide each year from cancer. This study done in 1975, remarkable, showed that cannabis could kill cancer cells – it was suppressed – nobody could get it. In fact, the researchers in Spain who do a lot of research on cannabis and cancer could not get a copy of it.
Now, it….what we’re seeing (and I’ll go through these very quickly) antitumor activity in breast cancer, prostate cancer, a type of lymphoma, melanoma. This is brain tumors - a type of brain cancer that cannabis is effective in. It can prevent a type of cancer in the mouse colon. colorectal cells can be killed by it.
At my alma mater, lung cancer… (this was done at the Deaconess hospital where I did my residency and two fellowships) and it shows that it prevents the spread of non-small cell lung cancer. Now, cannabis does not cause lung cancer because THC kills any cells that might have been created. This is interesting, on March 17th the National Cancer Institute had a statement on their treatment page that says, “The health care provider may recommend medicinal cannabis not only for symptom management but also for it’s possible direct antitumor effect.”
On March 29th – they took it away – and they said, “It appears that physicians caring for cancer patients do so only for symptom treatment.” So somebody got to them. Somebody who does not want you to know that cancer could be treated or prevented by the use of marijuana.
Here’s where we have to go. There’s universal agreement among medical researchers that we need to study it more. We need more patients. We need randomized, double-blinded clinical trials. We need investigation on how these cannabinoids work and we need political action. And that’s where NORML comes in.
Thank you very much.
Dean Becker: You are listening to Century of Lies on the Drug Truth Network on Pacifica radio. That was Dr. Alan Shackelford speaking at the recent NORML conference in Denver, Colorado. Next up we hear an interview I conducted with Ethan Nadelmann, the Executive Director of the Drug Policy Alliance.
Dean Becker: “…what you see may be coming out of this?”
Ethan Nadelmann: Well, we’re sort of at a historic moment, in a way. In a sense that Prop 19 in California just a few months ago just transformed the national dialogue. 46 and a half percent of the vote was so much better than many of us expected. And the fact that if it had been a Presidential election year it might have come as close as 50%. So right now the notion that it might be possible to win a marijuana legalization initiative in Colorado or California - maybe elsewhere – in 2012 has just got people really galvanized.
And, you know, there’s always that sense of, you know, we want to get an initiative exactly what we want. We want to make sure that every principal thing is in there. But when push comes to shove I think more people are recognizing that it’s important to win so long as that win is really substantive. And we’re getting to that point where we could have a substantive win.
Dean Becker: To me it was inspirational that being from Texas where this couldn’t happen. Yesterday I went to the 420 event, 20,000 or more people smoking every kind of weed, I suppose and between the state capital and the city hall. And what makes that possible for people to do that – to show that?
Ethan Nadelmann: Well I think the 420 events – whether it’s the Santa Cruz, California or Colorado – a lot of that is obviously just about the culture loosening up. Now let’s keep in mind we had that loosening up in the late 70’s too. I remember vividly, I was in my early…just turning 20 around then and there was an open atmosphere then. Remember people could go to the movie theaters and some people would light up a cigarette, some people would light up a joint? And people would smoke openly in many places. And a few years later the forces of repression came crashing down – that was the beginnings of the Drug War and marijuana got swept in with everything else.
So now we’re seeing that opening up again. We’re seeing people feeling more comfortable coming out as marijuana consumers. We’re seeing people more willing to step out and do it publically. We’re seeing, at least in certain cities, certainly in Denver and San Francisco, in Seattle, and going over cities where elected officials are increasingly in favor of not just medical marijuana but legalizing marijuana. So there is some definite momentum.
But I’ll tell you we can’t forget, as we’ve seen in the past, these things can reverse themself. Demographic trends are in our favor, political trends are up in the air.
Dean Becker: This brings to mind what you’re speaking about here. The debates between the 5 or 6 out of the 6 or 7 candidates right here at the NORML conference. There is a new willingness to discuss the subject.
Ethan Nadelmann: Well I think that’s true. Mind you that they mostly focus on medical marijuana and there’s such huge support for that in Denver that it’s no surprise that its candidates are mostly in favor.
The trickier issue is legalization. That’s why I’m very intrigued by what’s happening in Seattle where the city council and mayoral candidates are all stepping out and saying let’s go for full marijuana legalization and regulation. That’s a very, very positive development.
I think as this initiative picks up steam, over the course of the next year and a half, I think we’re going to see a lot of notable public officials really checking out and feeling whether it’s safe to put their foot in the water on this one.
Dean Becker: Now one thing I learned at this conference was that the US Attorney who either indicted and/or convicted Marc Emery is now working towards legalization in the state of Washington.
Ethan Nadelmann: Well that’s always wonderful when you have a former District Attorney or US Attorney who’s willing to come out and say they don’t like marijuana, they don’t like “blah, blah, blah”, but nonetheless prohibition makes less sense than the alternatives that’s always a very positive development.
Dean Becker: There’s such optimism here. It’s always optimistic at these events, but, I think people have more of a “knowing” smile than just a hopeful grin.
Ethan Nadelmann: Well I think people are realizing that they can taste victory. And when you can taste and smell victory it puts you in a mode where you can start to say, “I think I want to grow up in my own political advocacy. I want to get more sophisticated. I want to really push hard to think through what are the compromises that need to be made in order to obtain our first major victory.”
So you’re really seeing a maturation of the marijuana law reform movement.
Dean Becker: All right, once again friends, Mr. Ethan Nadleman, drugpolicy.org
Dean Becker: As the musical group Sweet 16s was telling us at the beginning of the show, Denver is the new Amsterdam and from what I gathered from the mayoral debate there in the middle of the NORML conference, it’s going to become even newer or more Amsterdamish…however you figure it.
You know what?! It’s time for YOU to help destroy the barbarous Mexican cartels.
Shaun Reefer: Well I’m diggin’ in dirt. Gonna plant some seeds. Gonna watch my marijuana grow like a big pine tree. Gonna let my marijuana grow and gonna be happy.
Dean Becker: Some advice from Shaun Reefer and the Resin Valley Boys. Spring is just around the corner
Drug….Truth….Network. Teaching the choir to sing …so low
Dean Becker: The NORML conference is the one event every year where I’m guaranteed to see nearly all of my good friends in drug reform. One such gentleman is Mr. Phil Smith of StopTheDrugWar.org.
Dean Becker: Phil, what’s your perception of this drug war and progress or lack thereof?
Phil Smith: Well I’ve been covering this for 10 years and I think we can really say that we’re making real progress. We’re sitting here in Denver, Colorado where next year there’s going to be a legalization initiative on the ballot. It looks like it’s has a good chance of passing. And, of course, Colorado is not the only state. We’ll probably see one in Washington state this year. If not this year, next year. Ditto for Oregon in 2012 as well as California in 2012.
And, we can’t forget the states in the Northeast where through legislative actions we’ve seen efforts to legalize it. There’s a bill alive in Maine. There’s one that just died in Massachusetts but they’ll be back.
So I think we’re making significant headway against pot prohibition. We’re not there yet but we’re getting close. The “Promise Land” is in sight.
Dean Becker: Yeah, I think this is a good thing but there’s a bigger problem. An international fiasco, if you ask me, the cartels, gangs and barbarians down in Mexico. They’re going to continue to do their part to keep this war going with the other drugs. Are they not?
Phil Smith: They are the Frankenstein’s monster of prohibition. We created them with our policies. And now, not so much we, but those poor Mexicans are paying the price. It’s just absolutely horrific what’s going on down there. And it’s all because of prohibition.
Now I’m not saying that if we ended prohibition the cartels would miraculously vanish. But we would certainly suck the oxygen out of their finances. We’re seeing more and more concern about this throughout Latin America. We’re seeing the whole continent come around on this issue. Unfortunately, it’s taking this horrific cartel violence to make this happen.
Dean Becker: Share your website and closing thoughts and motivation you might give my listeners to do their part.
Phil: Well the website is www.stopthedrugwar.org. That’s where you can read the Drug War Chronicle as well as other materials. I’m very excited, guys. We need you, who are listening to this, to be as active as you possibly can be. It takes action from all of us to make these things happen. We’re up against powerful, entrenched foes and we gotta keep fighting.
Winston Francis: If we end the drug war now, all of our efforts are for nothing. Victory cannot come from admitting defeat. Lives lost, families ruined, billions spent – all for nothing. Almost a century, generations of fighting – all for nothing. Giving up is the only true path to failure.
We must continue to fight, to spend and jail and kill to honor the memory of those who fought before us. It is what we know so it is what we must do. Follow the leader. Do not falter. Your path has been chosen for you.
Dean Becker: That segment comes to us from Winston Francis, a very evil man.
Keith Stroup: Hi, I’m Keith Stroup. I’m a legal council for NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.
Dean Becker: This is the 40th year of NORML. You’re kind of the grand patriarch, I think,
Keith Stroup: grandfather
Dean Becker: the grandfather of NORML and I think there’s a great sense of optimism and progress at this convention, right?
Keith Stroup: Well, without question, I’ll be honest, we’re proud of our 40 year history but we’ve made more – we, meaning the movement to legalize marijuana – has made more progress in the last 5 years than the first 35 altogether.
So, it’s fun to look back 40 years ago and look how much the world has changed. But I think what’s really exciting is to see the new world – Denver and Colorado generally are now the epicenter for the marijuana legalization movement, there’s no doubt about it.
And so just to be here and spend time and feel the difference in this state contrasted to most other states around the country is very exciting. It’s what you’re going to see in more and more states.
Dean Becker: You know the old government hysteria propaganda is kind of lost its luster. Truth is starting to win out, huh?!
Keith Stroup: Well, I think the strategy we used to laughingly say we’d follow if we had to, if necessary, is we’ll outlive the bastards. Well, I think we have.
Dean Becker: Well, here’s my closing thought for the show. Here’s hoping that all you drug war addict bastards die and that you do it soon. Remember there’s no truth, justice, logic – no reason for this drug war to exist. We have been duped. It’s possible the Drug Lords control every aspect of this policy.
Please visit our website, endprohibition.org. Do it for the children
Prohibido istac evilesco!
For the Drug Truth Network, this is Dean Becker. Asking you to examine our policy of Drug Prohibition.
The Century of Lies.
This show produced at Pacifica Studios at KPFT, Houston.
The James A Baker Institute
Sun - Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard's new song: "It's All Going To Pot"
Sat - Phil Smith of Alternet re departure of the head of DEA
Fri - Deon Haywood re unequal justice for women in drug war
Thu - New Pacifica reporter Derrick Broze re increasing opium trade in Afghanistan
Wed - Jonah Engle, author of report on asset forfeiture
Tue - Jonah Engle, author of report on asset forfeiture
Mon - DPA asset forfeiture conference with Megan Ralston & Senator Mitchell