As it turns out, marijuana doesn’t like cancer

The Cancer Institute now says that the THC in these plants can fight cancer cells.

When first experimenting in the 1970s, I immediately began reading everything I could on the subject of marijuana. And right from the beginning, what I was finding, especially the material coming from the newly minted Drug Enforcement Agency, was not in sync with what I was experiencing with the product.

My favorite from that period is the old saw about marijuana robbing you of incentive. While it might have been a familiar stereotype back in the “be sure to hide the roaches” days, it didn’t correspond to anything that was happening to me. If anything, I was toking up and getting really motivated. Once you got past the “I got stoned, and I missed it” clichés and Cheech and Chong routines, cannabis was no hindrance to motivation, and I found it laughable — still do — that it was even part of the conversation. If a person wasn’t naturally motivated, pot might not work positively, but it wasn’t the drug’s fault. As an artist told Sanjay Gupta on one of his “Weed” specials, “It’s my favorite way to work.”

So I have been suspect of anything that has been written or disseminated officially about cannabis. All scientific research on its medical possibilities was halted decades ago in the United States (it has continued in other countries), and the application process was made so onerous that none could even be attempted here. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned writing this column for a couple of years it’s that the old bullshit I smelled back then still often permeates the discourse about marijuana legalization today.

Read the headlines. Marijuana can give you cancer. It causes schizophrenia. It damages your heart and arteries. It’s a “gateway” to harder drugs and as addictive as heroin. It’s stronger and more dangerous than it used to be. It impairs cognitive functionality and can make you quit school or your job. It even lowers your IQ, for goodness’ sake.

The new scare tactics include that legalization will increase the availability of cannabis and lead to a “large and rapid” epidemic of marijuana users, start a major crime wave and put thousands of stoned zombies loose on our highways. So why shouldn’t there be a suspicion in any American that with all that “evidence,” some of it must be true?

Thankfully, there are others more wise than me who are helping separate fact from fiction. Organizations like the Drug Policy Alliance and NORML have websites filled with up-to-date information about marijuana and its myths, and there are dozens of other publications already acting as watchdogs coming online all the time.

Just this month, while the major news media have been slobbering over Donald Trump, it slipped by that the National Cancer Institute, which is part of the Department of Health, admitted that cannabinoids can be used to inhibit cancer cells without harming healthy ones (a major side effect of chemotherapy and radiation).

Yes, you read that correctly, and it’s worth repeating. From the cancer institute’s own website: “Cannabinoids may be useful in treating the side effects of cancer and cancer treatment. Other possible effects of cannabinoids include a) anti-inflammatory activity, b) blocking cell growth, c) preventing the growth of blood vessels that supply tumors, d) antiviral activity and e) relieving muscle spasms caused by multiple sclerosis.”

It also advises that “cannabinoids are useful in treating cancer and its side effects by smoking, eating it in a baked product, drinking herbal teas, or even spraying it under the tongue.” Nowhere does this government website say that cannabis causes cancer.

The disturbing part is that the Department of Health has disavowed this for years, and that it has persisted in its denial and kept marijuana on Schedule 1 even as its leaders have learned about the research over time. Bills are circulating in both the U.S. House and the Senate to change it to Schedule 2 so research can be resumed.

Finally, I can’t help but find it amusing that the ingredient in marijuana that seems to inhibit cancer growth in cells is THC, the very same cannabinoid that produces the “high” that anti-pot advocates are willing to spend billions of dollars to deny to the rest of us.

Perhaps large pharmaceutical companies, which profit from chemotherapy and radiation therapies and narcotic drugs that get people high, are already seeking to separate the buzz from the THC. We wouldn’t want people who are healing to enjoy themselves, would we?

You can hear Leland discuss his most recent column and Colorado cannabis issues each Thursday morning on KGNU.