04/24/19 Melanie Dreher

Century of Lies
Melanie Dreher
Patients out of Time

This week on Century, an interview with the renowned researcher Melanie Dreher, PhD, RN, FAAN.

Audio file



APRIL 24, 2019

DEAN BECKER: The failure of drug war is glaringly obvious to judges, cops, wardens, prosecutors, and millions more now calling for decriminalization, legalization, the end of prohibition. Let us investigate the Century Of Lies.

DOUG MCVAY: Hello, and welcome to Century of Lies. I'm your host Doug McVay, editor of DrugWarFacts.org.

Well, this week we're going to hear an interview with Melanie Dreher, PhD. She's also a registered nurse and a Fellow of the American Academy of Nursing. It was such an honor to have the chance to sit down with her and to get this interview, and I hope you folks enjoy it. Before any ado can possibly be furthered, let's get to it.

Could you tell me who you are and what you do?

MELANIE DREHER, PHD, RN, FAAN: Melanie Dreher, and I am Dean Emeritus at Rush University, and I'm a cannabis researcher, four decades of cannabis research.

DOUG MCVAY: Doctor Dreher, there is so very much that I could be asking you about, and in so little time. Just, well, what inspired you? This is probably a big question, too, but I'll do it. What inspired you to make cannabis, I mean, I don't know if saying making cannabis your career is the right way to say it. What inspired your interest in this plant?

MELANIE DREHER, PHD, RN, FAAN: Oh, it was purely by accident. I was a graduate student at Columbia University. My professor decided to send me to Jamaica to do an ethnographic study and recruit subjects for a medical study.

And it was 1969. It was when Neal Armstrong first set foot on the moon, and 400,000 of my best friends were in Woodstock, which is where I really wanted to be. And, I ended up on a mountaintop, having no experience with cannabis, never having been to Jamaica, and not knowing how to do ethnography. So I was perfectly qualified for a career as an ethnographer in cannabis research.

And that was the beginning. And, from there, we -- my first study there was really looking at the amotivational syndrome, which was a very popular concept in the early Seventies, suggesting that cannabis use made people lose their interest in productive activities, drop out, drop out of college, not being able to finish simple tasks, et cetera.

And the reason I selected that as my doctoral dissertation was because I had just spent the summer before in Jamaica where men and women were using cannabis to help them work harder.

So, something was going on here, and it warranted a cross-cultural study. So I ended up doing a study of rural farmers, and sugar cane workers, and the nice thing about studying sugar cane workers is that their productivity is measured in the tons that they cut, because that's how they get paid.

And, after a year of -- I'm sorry, yes, actually two years working with cane cutters and measuring their productivity, and getting to know them as people in a certain context, I discovered that actually there was no difference in their productivity. So whether they smoked cannabis or whether they didn't, men were working hard.

But if they believed that cannabis was helping them work harder, that was a good thing.

So, while I was there, I also discovered that women were preparers of cannabis tea and medicines that they would give to their families and children, in many ways, to help the children work harder. They made sure that children had a cannabis tea before they went to school, and especially if they were taking a test, they wanted their children to be able to concentrate. And they did that by preparing them tea.

So I did a tiny study that was then published in an education journal on whether the children who had cannabis tea performed better academically than children who didn't have the tea. And, the result that, and I'm not -- wasn't sure we'd get this result, but in fact, the children who performed better in school were the tea drinkers.

And, I think, one of the good things about doing this ethnographic work is that you come out of the laboratory and study natural behavior in its natural context, and understand why cannabis was working in this instance.

And certainly the mothers and fathers who cared enough to make sure that their children would partake of their, you know, limited, little store of cannabis, were also the mothers and fathers who made sure their children had clean uniforms to wear, and pencils, and notebooks to go to school with, and that they were actually attending school more often.

So it was, cannabis tea was part of a complex of good parenting. Interestingly, we asked the teachers ahead of time which children, they did not know whether the children were getting tea or not. We asked them which children they thought would be getting the tea.

And of course, the teachers were representing middle class, they disapproved of giving cannabis tea to children, and got it completely wrong. The children that they thought were the high performers were indeed the high performers, but they were not the children that they thought were drinking tea.

So, it was an interesting little study that then led on to working with mothers, and a few women had actually begun smoking, which was out of sort of the cultural order of Jamaica.

And at that time, the United States was still reeling from the thalidomide event, and were very interested in the substances, the teratogenic factors of all substances that women were using during pregnancy.

So I was able to get the March of Dimes to fund a small study, looking at the -- at the effects, the neonatal and perinatal effects of cannabis exposure during pregnancy. And we used thirty cannabis using women and thirty non, and they were matched for age and parity, and socioeconomic status.

And that study also engaged the Brazelton Neonatal team from Harvard, and they helped administer that schedule, to look at children's neurological and behavioral -- babies, neonates, neurological and behavioral performance.

And counterintuitively, one day, the children -- babies, in both groups, were non-differentiated. I mean, we didn't -- we could not find anything that would distinguish the exposed babies from the non-exposed babies on the Brazelton Scale.

At one month, the exposed children performed significantly better on every variable of the Brazelton Scale. And we were very surprised. We didn't think we'd ever get anyone to publish it. In fact, Pediatrics did publish it a little bit later, in 1995, and interestingly, we got no pushback at all. I thought there would be letters coming in, how can you say this doesn't make a difference. It was totally silent.

It was not until 20 years later that all of a sudden this became an important study. But in the meantime, pregnant women who use marijuana found this study, and they used this study, and it got, you know, circulated among other pregnant women. So it did have an enormous impact.

Frankly, that little study is probably -- made us rockstars among cannabis users today and advocates of cannabis. It was very well conducted, we worked hard, we got it right.

And once again, by looking at this behavior in context, as opposed to the laboratory, we could see that differences between the two samples that had nothing to do with age or parity or socioeconomic status, but really how they functioned economically, where most of the smoking mothers, or the using mothers, were not in conjugal unions. They were self-supporting.

So they had their own incomes, and they would be the first to say, if I don't have to keep a man, I have a lot more time to give to my baby. And so they were able to create very salubrious environments, neonatal environments -- environments for neonatal development.

And then, we were funded by the federal government, NIH, actually the National Institute on Drug Abuse, to look at these children from two to five, and to see if there was any developmental impact of the prenatal exposure.

Once again, we could not find anything to distinguish -- there were children who did better than other children, but it was not related at all to prenatal exposure. And we were pretty excited about those results, and they generated a lot of other interesting data that allowed us to attribute those differences to other factors in the environment.

But, nonetheless, we decided, let's look at this impact on school age children. So using the same cohort, the only study in history that would have been the same cohort to look at children from five to ten. Went into the feds, and tried to get, you know, an extension, another study funded, and that's when they cut us off and said, you know, these are not the data we expected to get, and we're funded by Congress, and Congress is not going to like these results.

So that was the end of that sequence. But, just because NIH didn't like it did not prevent me from actually doing another study in Jamaica, which was a national survey of drug use.

And that came in the Eighties, late '80s, because for the first time, cocaine had come into Jamaica. And for a while it was just within musicians, and then it leaked into the larger society, for a number of reasons.

I took four students down. We did a national ethnographic study, we were in five communities, the students -- each student had his or her own community. I did sex workers in Kingston who were addicted to crack cocaine.

And one of the things that we -- first of all, we discovered that there was no -- that cannabis was definitely not a gateway drug to crack cocaine or anything else.

The Rastafarian community that we worked with had a kind of socially, and perhaps even physiologically, protective value of using cannabis, and they did not engage in crack cocaine use at all. Maybe one or two might have tried it, but they were disinterested in it, completely.

The other thing that we saw was that my sex workers in Kingston were using -- had never used cannabis before they used crack cocaine, were currently using cannabis to relinquish their crack cocaine habit. And which they did very successfully. So far from being a gateway drug, it was actually an exit drug.

And even though USAID and even the public health, ministry of health in Jamaica was thinking we've got multi-drug users here, we didn't have multi-drug users. We had single-drug users who were using the cheapest, most available product around, cannabis, for self treatment to get off of crack cocaine.

So there you have it, pretty much the history of my work in Jamaica. But, it has provided so many insights, and when I hear about the wonderful physiological research that is going on, and the discovery of the endocannabinoid system, I'm thinking, somehow, through experience, human beings knew this stuff already.

The Jamaicans were doing -- were acting on this, they could tell me way back then that cannabis smoked went directly to the brain, and cannabis consumed in teas and tonics went to the blood, and this is correlating with where CB-1s and CB-2s are now.

Fortunately we have this good research because now it gives us greater application for this amazing plant that has figured significantly not only in humans, but every living vertebrate from the beginning of time. So the fun is just beginning. I'm glad to be part of the early walks in this journey. So, it's been great. A great career.

DOUG MCVAY: We're listening to an interview with Doctor Melanie Dreher. She is Board Chair of the Trinity Health System, Dean Emeritus of the College of Nursing of Rush University and Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. We'll get back to that interview in just a moment.

You're listening to Century of Lies. I'm your host Doug McVay.

On April 8, the UK House of Commons had a discussion about medical cannabis. The UK government is breaking, or maybe just bending, its promise to get medical cannabis to patients that are in need.

And so Members of Parliament have raised the question. We're going to hear now a couple of comments from Members of Parliament. First up, Ronnie Cowan, a member of the Scottish National Party representing Inverclyde.

JOHN BERCOW, MP: Ronnie Cowan.

RONNIE COWAN, MP: Thank you very much, Mister Speaker. There are some warm words circulating here today. My question relates to the point that was just made. We have this problem today, clinical trials will take six months, nine months, a year. What can we reasonably do legally to get certified products that we know will work into the hands of parents today who've got children who desperately need them?

MATT HANCOCK: I entirely understand the honorable Gentleman’s point, and I feel the same way as he does about the urgency of these cases, and the need to get a second opinion now can be actioned immediately, and will be actioned immediately, because the crucial point is that a, we cannot prescribe unlicensed medicines without any clinicians making that prescription.

There are just over 95,000 clinicians on the specialist register. Any of those who have expertise in this area can, if their clinical judgment allows them to, can make these prescriptions. And that can happen right now.

DOUG MCVAY: That was Ronnie Cowan, he's a Scottish National Party Member of Parliament. The UK Parliament discussed medical cannabis on April 8. In particular, there were concerns that the UK government is failing to meet its promise of providing medical cannabis to patients that are in need.

Now, let's hear from another Member of Parliament. Here's Thangam Debbonaire, Labour Party, from Bristol.

JOHN BERCOW, MP: Thangam Debbonaire.

THANGAM DEBBONAIRE, MP: Thank you, Mister Speaker. I -- thank you to internet memes.

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for what he has said so far, but I have spoken with a neurosurgeon in my constituency who says that one of his anxieties is not being able to give good advice to parents whom he suspects may or may not be trying to get access to medical cannabis through not wholly legal routes, because he is unsure what the law is.

I agree with the Secretary of State on the need for clinical evidence, so what more information can he give us on the timescale? When will we see the health education research that he talks about? When will we see this? What will be the timeframe? In the meantime, why can we not use the evidence of clinical trials conducted elsewhere?

MATT HANCOCK: The evidence of clinical trials from elsewhere absolutely can and should be used. All international clinical evidence should be brought to bear on these decisions and has been in the case of CBD. And on the answer to how quickly, as she can probably imagine, the answer is as soon as possible.

DOUG MCVAY: That was Thangam Debbonaire, a Member of Parliament in the UK, asking questions of a government minister regarding the lack of availability of cannabis medicines. Patients were promised in 2018 that the UK government was finally going to allow them to have access to cannabis medicines. That's simply not true.

Now, let's hear Alison Thewliss, Scottish National Party, Member of the UK House of Commons.

JOHN BERCOW, MP: Alison Thewliss.

ALISON THEWLISS, MP: Thank you, Mister Speaker. One of my constituents — one of many who have been in touch with me about this issue — has multiple sclerosis and found previously that cannabis helped his symptoms immensely, but he does not want to break the law and he cannot get a prescription. What would the Secretary of State advise him to do?

MATT HANCOCK: Well if she'll write to me with the case, we'll get a second opinion from a clinician who may be able to make that prescription.

DOUG MCVAY: That was Alison Thewliss, member of the Scottish National Party, she's a Member of the UK Parliament, and she was questioning a government minister about the UK government's failure to get medical cannabis into the hands of patients who are in need.

You're listening to Century of Lies. I'm your host Doug McVay. Now, let's hear some more from my interview with Doctor Melanie Dreher.

Because you have that kind of perspective, I have to ask, the changes now, to then, in not just understanding, but also the policy. What do you think are some of the more positive things that have happened?

MELANIE DREHER, PHD, RN, FAAN: Oh, I think the fact that there are only 16 of 50 states in which cannabis is still illegal is amazing. I mean, given the environment in which I worked in the early days?

I mean, I was arrested and detained at the Miami Airport, I was arrested and jailed twice in Jamaica. I had to get a DEA license in order to do this study and then, you know, send the cannabis to Mississippi. I think the fact that we have -- to be analyzed for THC content.

And, but then to now have a medicine ready plant, the fact that the concentration of THC in our plants is much higher now is a very good thing, because it cuts down on the tars and all those medical problems that result from inhalation, pulmonary affects, so that's a very good thing.

People are still, however, uninformed. They are -- we must do a better job of educating the public, and one of the things that personally has happened to me is that, I always felt safe as a researcher. You know, I'll do the research, you guys take it and do something with it.

Now, hearing the stories of people and the struggles that they have had in their lives for various reasons, has made me an activist, and I welcome any opportunity that I can get in front of an audience and talk about cannabis, and tell them the real truth.

And my -- I usually start out with the statement that I'm not here to get them to use marijuana. I hardly ever use that term, but I'm not here to get you to use marijuana, I'm here to tell you the truth. Whether you use it or not is your decision, but at least know the truth.

And that's been very gratifying to me, now that I'm retired, I have more time to do those kinds of things that help people really understand this extraordinary plant.

DOUG MCVAY: I don't know if you blog or anything, but, what, do you have any books that people might be interested in?

MELANIE DREHER, PHD, RN, FAAN: Well, you know, one of my favorite books is often not cited. There are many, many excellent books on cannabis now, and it drives me crazy when politicians say, well, we need more research. We have tons of research, and research that was conducted under very difficult situations, politically difficult situations.

We have plenty of research. We have some excellent books. But one of the books I like a lot, I'm just blanking at the author's name, he's a very well known author, you might know it. He wrote a little book called The Botany Of Desire.

DOUG MCVAY: Michael Pollan.

MELANIE DREHER, PHD, RN, FAAN: Michael Pollan's book.

DOUG MCVAY: Oh, of course, Michael Pollan's book The Botany Of Desire.

MELANIE DREHER, PHD, RN, FAAN: Yes. And I love that book, because he really described the evolution of the plant in relation to the politics of the people.

And, it's very, very cleverly done, and it's in the context of other important plants in our history as a species. You know, I think it was the apple, and the tulip, and potato, wasn't it? The potato.



DOUG MCVAY: Irish ancestry, you know I'm going to remember that.

MELANIE DREHER, PHD, RN, FAAN: Yes. There you go. And cannabis. It's a small book, a delightful book, and I think gives people a real sense of the importance in terms of human evolution of this amazing plant.

I mean, when you think that the endocannabinoid system really describes how we have evolved, and will continue to evolve, with homeostasis. I mean, this plant makes us eat, sleep, forget, and enjoy sex. These are the four things we need to evolve, continue to evolve as a species.

The significance of it just cannot be underplayed. So it's so important that we acknowledge the brilliance of this plant.

DOUG MCVAY: Doctor Dreher, thank you so much.

MELANIE DREHER, PHD, RN, FAAN: You're welcome.

DOUG MCVAY: Oh my gosh. I am a fan, I have to admit, I am.

That was my interview with Doctor Melanie Dreher.

NGAIO BEALUM: This is why I like weed. It's beneficial. It helps people. You read studies every week how marijuana helps with this s***, marijuana fixes this s***.

They had a study a few months ago, marijuana helps to alleviate the symptoms and the onset of Alzheimer's disease. It's true. It's true. How it works is, you get to used to forgetting s***, you develop a system. Right? So then when the Alzheimer's kicks in, you don't even notice, you just think you're high. Right? As long as you can find your pen, you're good.

This is why I like weed. Marijuana, for me, it's like the umami, you understand, it's the soy sauce. It's the ranch dressing. It's the ketchup of life. Maybe some s*** is cool, you put some weed on it, it's even cooler. Right? Maybe it's not so cool, you dip it in some weed? All right. You hear where I'm coming from?

Things I don't want to do, I don't like to wash dishes, but I don't mind getting high and washing dishes. You understand where I'm coming from? Right? It takes an extra hour, because I have to make a playlist. Right? My washing the dishes playlist is off the hook though, you hear me? It's got different songs depending on how many dishes, what kind of dishes. There's extra spoons there's more SoundGarden.

Right? Spoon me.

DOUG MCVAY: And that's it for this week. I want to thank you for joining us. You have been listening to Century of Lies. We're a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network, on the web at DrugTruth.net. I’m your host Doug McVay, editor of DrugWarFacts.org.

The executive producer of the Drug Truth Network is Dean Becker. Drug Truth Network programs, including this show, Century of Lies, as well as the flagship show of the Drug Truth Network, Cultural Baggage, and of course our daily 420 Drug War News segments, are all available by podcast. The URLs to subscribe are on the network home page at DrugTruth.net.

The Drug Truth Network has a Facebook page, please give it a like. Drug War Facts is on Facebook too, give its page a like and share it with friends. Remember: Knowledge is power.

You can follow me on Twitter, I'm @DougMcVay and of course also @DrugPolicyFacts.

We'll be back in a week with thirty more minutes of news and information about drug policy reform and the failed war on drugs. For now, for the Drug Truth Network, this is Doug McVay saying so long. So long!

For the Drug Truth Network, this is Doug McVay asking you to examine our policy of drug prohibition: the century of lies. Drug Truth Network programs archived at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy.