Doctor wants marijuana in medicine cabinet
Granny didn’t want to smoke marijuana. She didn’t want to puff away on a controlled substance, in fact, she didn’t even know how. But, she had a doctor’s recommendation. “It (the marijuana) helped her wonderfully with her nausea,” said Dr. Lester Grinspoon of the 76-year-old pancreatic cancer patient. Grinspoon, a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, has been studying the issue of medical marijuana for years. He’s also written two books on the subject, one, “Marihuana: The Forbidden Medicine,” is published in several languages around the world. Due to the recent arrest of former California gubernatorial candidate, Stephen Kubby, for growing marijuana in his Olympic Valley home, the issue of medical marijuana has wound its way back to the foreground in the public sector. Although Kubby says the 265 marijuana plants confiscated by the multi-agency North Tahoe Task Force in January were for personal, medical use, Placer County deputy district attorney Christopher Cattran claims that 265 marijuana plants and four separate grow rooms at the Kubby residence is a little too much for merely personal use. According to Kubby’s attorney, Dale Wood of Truckee, Kubby uses marijuana to stave off the adrenal cancer he was diagnosed with 22 years ago. Repeated attempts to reach Kubby prior to press time were unsuccessful. Kubby, 52, and his wife Michele, 32, were arrested Jan. 21 and charged with possession of marijuana for sales, cultivation of marijuana and conspiracy following a six-month investigation by the North Tahoe Task Force. The Kubby’s are disputing the charges, claiming that the marijuana was for their own personal, medical use as prescribed by their doctors under Proposition 215. “As far as I’m concerned, they’ve jailed him (Kubby) for using the least toxic medicine available to anyone,” Grinspoon said. “Nobody has ever died from using marijuana and there are very few drugs you can make a statement like that about. Two thousand people die from aspirin every year.” Although Grinspoon is doubtful that the cannabis has kept Kubby’s malignancy in check over the years, he says that’s not the point. “It’s given him relief and it’s not hurting anyone,” Grinspoon said. Some, however, believe that smoking marijuana has indeed saved Kubby’s life. Dr. Vincent DeQuattro, a professor of medicine at USC Medical Center, initially treated Kubby when he was first diagnosed with malignant pheochromocytoma. DeQuattro treated Kubby with the usual medical therapy until his tumor spread to his liver. He then referred Kubby to a new physician. That was 12 years ago and DeQuattro is surprised that Kubby is still alive. In a letter DeQuattro wrote to the Tahoe City Superior Court, he urges the superior court judge to “consider supplying Steve with sufficient supplies of his specific marijuana product in order to control his life threatening disease.” It wasn’t just Kubby’s physiological reaction to abstinence from his medical marijuana that convinced DeQuattro of the plants’ powerful therapy, he also contacted Kubby’s physician and found that every other patient with Kubby’s condition had died. “Steve was the only survivor,” DeQuattro said in his letter. “Faith healers would term Steve’s existence these past 10 to 15 years as nothing short of a miracle. In my view, this miracle, in part, is related to therapy with marijuana.” Although Grinspoon believes Kubby’s survival and use of marijuana is merely a coincidence, he does advocate the use of marijuana as a medical treatment. “Once our society comes to its senses with this drug, they’ll find it’s remarkable,” Grinspoon said. Until then, however, who is allowed to use marijuana under Prop. 215, commonly known as the Compassionate Use Act? According to the text of Prop. 215, patients who use marijuana for cancer, anorexia, AIDS, chronic pain, spasticity, glaucoma, arthritis, migraines or “any other illness for which marijuana provides relief” are protected by the initiative. Dr. Kenneth Ritchie, however, an opthamologist in Truckee, said marijuana is no longer prescribed for glaucoma patients. “Anybody who says they’re using it (marijuana) for glaucoma is blowing smoke in your face,” Ritchie said. “I don’t know anybody who legitimately prescribes marijuana for glaucoma.” According to Ritchie, marijuana only has an effect on glaucoma (damage to the eye due to intolerable pressure) for two to three hours. “You’d have to stay high 24 hours a day and you can’t keep the pressure down at night. You’re slowly going blind during the night,” Ritchie said. But for other conditions, only small amounts of marijuana are needed. “It’s useful for nausea from chemotherapy, for AIDS patients, various convulsive disorders, migraines and muscle spasms,” Grinspoon said. “There are about 30 different syndromes for which it is useful.” According to Grinspoon, most people don’t need an entire joint to get relief from their ailments. “Usually you just need a couple of puffs to get relief,” Grinspoon said. “I have yet to see a patient smoke a whole joint for relief.” For example, someone going through chemotherapy may smoke twice during the session or someone with severe nausea may smoke marijuana twice a day. That’s about all the skeptical 76-year-old grandmother suffering from cancer needed to keep her nausea in check, Grinspoon said. “I told her to light a joint, take a puff, wait five minutes and do it again,” Grinspoon said. “I told her to stop when one of two things happened. Either she felt uncomfortable or her nausea stopped.” According to Grinspoon, marijuana is such a wonder drug partly because it doesn’t have any serious side effects. There are health concerns associated with inhaling the smoke, much like tobacco, but since very few people smoke marijuana like they smoke cigarettes, Grinspoon said there isn’t as great a risk for cancer.