The Ironic Comparison Of Cannabis and Pharmaceuticals
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Comparing Testing, Health Benefits and Side Effects
Proponents and advocates of the medical cannabis industry have long pointed at the pharmaceutical industry as to why medical cannabis is not further along in research, development and most importantly, application. On one hand, it would be a safe assumption to say that cannabis is currently one of the most tested and researched substances in America. However, the application of medical cannabis continues to move at a snail’s pace, if not a dead snail’s pace. On the other hand, America continues to see new pharmaceuticals pushed behind the counter of your local pharmacy nearly as quickly as they restock the candy aisle. So what is behind all of these pharmaceuticals, and their FDA approvals, that are being deemed as useful and effective in the treatments to which they are claiming? Well, it turns out that answer is much less than you think.
In a recent analysis of the past 206 FDA supported pharmaceutical drugs, over 36% of those (74 drugs) were approved on the basis of a single clinical trial. Furthermore, many of those 200+ FDA approved drugs were passed through with little, if any, research as to the long-term side effects. Now, the theory behind the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), as well as the public expectation, is that the FDA will test and vet these substances before they hit the market.
Many Americans consider FDA approval as a legitimate medical claim. In fact, in a nationwide study of nearly 3,000 Americans, 39% reported that they believe the FDA only approves ‘extremely effective’ drugs. 25% of people in the same study are of the opinion that the FDA only passes pharmaceuticals that have no serious side effects. Unfortunately, this belief is very dangerous, for patients as well as medical physicians who might take the FDA endorsement at face value.
In a recent analysis of the past 206 FDA supported pharmaceutical drugs, over 36% of those (74 drugs) were approved on the basis of a single clinical trial.1
The blind leap of faith is not only dangerous due to the lack of clinical trials, but the side effects listed with these pharmaceuticals are vast and often overwhelming. A recent study conducted by Dr. Jon Duke, assistant professor of medicine at the Indiana University School of Medicine, analyzed 5,600 drug labels and found more than 500,000 listed effects. Their findings indicated that more commonly recommended pharmaceuticals came with an average of 100 side effects, with some listing as many as 525. Now, obviously most of the side effects listed are less than likely, but the fact that the FDA is passing these medicines, often with one clinical trial and an average of 100 side effects, says all that needs to be sad about the hypocritical state of the medical system in America.
To make the comparison, feel free to visit PubMed, the National Library of Medicine’s database. A simple search for the term ‘cannabis’ will yield you over 14,000 studies, dating all the way back to 1843 and Dr. John Clendinning’s ‘Observations on the Medicinal Properties of the Cannabis Sativa of India.’ Now, a study is certainly not a clinical trial. However, as cannabis is federally illegal, those clinical trials have not been allowed and are left as ‘studies’. If we could speculate that those studies would have turned in to legal clinical trials, which, given the ‘anecdotal’ medicinal evidence, would be the case, then we could assume a certain percentage of these 14,000 studies would have become legal trials.
If we were then so bold as to take the FDA single-study approval percentage and apply it to even a third of these studies, you would have well over 1,000 cannabis related medications approved for medical use. However, currently the FDA has approved 0 cannabis related substances for medicinal use.
The National Cancer Institute, the federally recognized authority on cancer research, recently released their findings that ‘Cannabis has been shown to kill cancer cells in the laboratory.’
But what about the long-term side effects? Cannabis has to be as bad for you as the pharmaceutical alternative, right? Well that depends on who you ask. If you were to ask Dr. Jordan Bechtold, a psychology research fellow at the University of Pittsburg, he would say that cannabis use, especially as a teenager, does not lead to long-term side effects. Dr. Bechtold was part of a recent research group who, in conjunction with PITT and Rutgers University, followed 408 males from adolescence to their mid 30’s for the study. The findings were thereafter published in Psychology of Addictive Behaviors and disseminated through the American Psychological Association (APA).
“What we found was a little surprising. There were no differences in any of the mental or physical health outcomes that we measured regardless of the amount of frequency of marijuana used during adolescence.” – Dr. Jordan Bechtold – University of Pittsburg Psychology Research Fellow
In the spirit of comparison, a simple search for ‘pharmaceutical long-term effects’ yields dozens of results that correlate to studies showing drastically negative side effects to long-term prescription pharmaceutical consumption. Not to mention the reported prescription drug overdose total, which according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, a federally operated agency, in 2013 topped 24,000 people, 15,000 more than heroin.
So, in order to potentially overdose on a cannabis edible, one would have to eat 2.2 million times the suggested dose in 15 minutes.
Now, in order to hit the comparison out of the park, one most point out one last bit of information. Throughout the history of cannabis consumption, as far as we can trace it back that is, there are no documented cases of a cannabis consumer dying from overdose. It’s been reported that science has, however, figured out the amount of cannabis one would need to consume edibly in order to be at risk for a lethal reaction. That number is 22 kilograms. The recommended dose for a cannabis edible is 10 millagrams. So, in order to potentially overdose on a cannabis edible, one would have to eat 2.2 million times the suggested dose in 15 minutes. In terms of smoking cannabis, those numbers are comically more impossible to reach.
The point of all of this information is not to demonize the pharmaceutical industry, and not to glorify cannabis as the end-all perfect solution to medical treatments. Rather, this article simply aims to jumpstart the conversation as to the hypocrisy in which America allows medical treatments to be developed and approved for human consumption. For those who already knew this information, it is a data and research based compilation they can share with the skeptics in their lives. These studies are not coming from the cannabis community. Instead, these studies are coming from national renown medical colleges and federally funded research. In fact, the National Cancer Institute, the federally recognized authority on cancer research, recently released their findings that ‘Cannabis has been shown to kill cancer cells in the laboratory.’
So we did it. We’ve found a possible cure for cancer. After all of these years, and the billions of dollars that have gone towards researching this terrible disease, America has finally found something that could reverse the curse and treat suffering and dying patients. Let’s throw it in a single clinical trial and push it through the FDA. Oh wait…the treatment is cannabis related? Whoops. Never mind, back to the drawing board. This is the state of medicine in America right now. Sadly, this is not just one man’s opinion. This information is based on facts, research and information that is accessible to everyone, even the American government. Your move America.
What are your thoughts on this comparison? What do you think needs to happen so that cannabis can be treated in the same medical light as the pharmaceutical world? Do you even want it to be?
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