By *Jomo Thomas

When the CARICOM marijuana panel made its way through St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) more than two years ago, it was told that SVG is a ganga country. This was true then and it is true now. The Unity Labour Party (ULP) should know this all to well. After the military/police operations that attempted to eradicate marijuana production in 2010, it lost both the North Leeward and South Leeward seats and have not won them back since. The people’s affair with marijuana production and sales partly explains why.

As we saw last week, America led the fight in the demonisation of marijuana and the Americans have opened the way for a more sensible and enlightened conversation about the use of this important herb.

We like to follow too much. We could have been ahead of the curve. The first Plain Talk column of 2015 noted that the decriminalisation of marijuana should be a primary legislative responsibility of our legislature. Nothing was done, so Jamaica, Antigua, Cayman Islands and Belize have bravely jumped ahead of us. Antigua’s Gastan Browne, in explaining his government’s action, told the nation that marijuana smoking was part of the culture of Antiguans.

This did not have to be so. As early as 2013, PM Gonsalves wrote to then CARICOM chair, Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, Kamla Persad Bissessar asking for regional movement on marijuana. But CARICOM moved at a glacial pace.

Further afield, in 1973, the American state of Oregon legalised the recreational use of marijuana. In 1996, California became the first state to legalise medical cannabis. In 2012, Colorado and Washington State followed Oregan and legalise its recreational use.

A 2013 survey also found a majority of American physicians — 76 per cent — approve of the medical use of marijuana. Popular neurosurgeon Sanjay Gupta even made a highly publicised reversal on his anti-marijuana stance after the production of his two-part series entitled “Weed”.

Cannabis has a long history and a multiplicity of uses, health and industrial. Marijuana is called hemp when being used for its fibres, which are extracted from the stem and constructed into rope, clothing and paper. Hemp plants are low in tetrahydrocannabinols (THC) levels and, therefore, do not get you high. Before prohibition, hemp was viewed as an important cash crop. It was used for rope by navies around the world, and as a thick durable linen ideal for clothing and packaging heavy materials. Hemp seed oil was used in soaps, paints and varnishes.

The most successful movement to date, and the one that produced the first legal marijuana market in decades, is the medical marijuana movement. Medical cannabis is now legal in 30 U.S. states, the majority of which allow limited use of medical marijuana under certain medical circumstances, although some limit medical cannabis to oils or pills only. Eight states have legalised it for recreational use.

As mentioned last week, our bodies makes its own cannabinoids, similar to those found in marijuana, but in much smaller amounts. These endocannabinoids appear to perform signalling operations similar to your body’s neurotransmitters, such as dopamine and serotonin. Cannabinoid receptors can be found on cell membranes throughout your body. In fact, scientists now believe they may represent the most widespread receptor system.

Even though research has been limited by its classification as a Schedule 1 controlled substance, its list of medicinal benefits is still quite long. Cannabis has been found useful in the treatment of: mental disorders, including post-traumatic stress disorder, mood disorders. Seizure disorders such as epilepsy, rheumatoid arthritis, tremors, heart disease, multiple sclerosis and other autoimmune issues, autism, Parkinson’s disease, chronic fatigue syndrome, cancer, including melanoma, leukaemia and cancers of the brain, breast, prostate, lung, head and neck, thyroid, colon and pituitary, Nausea, vomiting and lack of appetite Insomnia, Glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, sclerosis, Crohn’s disease, Hepatitis-C Cachexia (wasting syndrome), asthma, drug dependency and withdrawal, high blood pressure.

Among the most exciting research is that on cancer. Not only does cannabis help with the unpleasant side effects of traditional chemotherapy (including pain, nausea and insomnia), but the cannabis itself appears to be a natural chemotherapy agent.

Researchers have found cannabis is pro-apoptotic, meaning it triggers cellular suicide of cancer cells while leaving healthy cells untouched, and anti-angiogenic, meaning it cuts off a tumour’s blood supply. Dozens of studies point to marijuana’s effectiveness against many different types of cancer.

Another area where marijuana offers great hope is in the treatment of pain. Overdoses from narcotic painkillers are now the leading cause of death among under the age of 50, and pharmaceuticals, in general, have for decades been among the leading causes of death in the U.S. According to Dr. Margaret Gedde, research clearly confirms that cannabis is safer and less toxic than many prescription drugs.

This includes liver and kidney toxicity, gastrointestinal damage, nerve damage and death. Moreover, cannabinoids often work when pharmaceutical drugs fail. So not only is marijuana safer but it’s typically more effective. Besides treating intractable seizures, one of the strongest areas of research regarding marijuana’s health benefits is pain control.

In 2010, the Center for Medical Cannabis Research released a report 19 on 14 clinical studies about the use of marijuana for pain, most of which were FDA-approved, double-blind and placebo-controlled. The report revealed that marijuana not only controls pain but in many cases, it does so better than pharmaceutical alternatives.

If you compare opioids to marijuana, marijuana is unquestionably safer. Contrary to opioids, a cannabis overdose cannot kill you because there are no cannabinoid receptors in your brain stem, the region of your brain that controls your heartbeat and respiration.

What’s more, marijuana has been shown to ease withdrawal symptoms in those trying to wean off opioids, which are extremely addictive.

Big pharmaceuticals have been gloating about the potential of drugs derived from marijuana. One release claims: “This product approval demonstrates that advancing sound scientific research to investigate ingredients derived from marijuana can lead to important therapies … This is an important medical advance.”

Clearly, because of the sigma, bad press and hostility of the society to marijuana use in St Vincent, people’s views have been tainted. This marijuana conversation should be moved from the arena of prevention and prosecution to the area on control and health particularly as it relates to use among young adults.

A bi-partisan approach on this important issue should remove it from the area of politics and an eye to the vote to what’s best for our country.

Black Stalin is right. “We can do this if we try jus’ a little harder.”

*Jomo Thomas is a lawyer, journalist and international affairs specialist. He is a former senator and is now speaker in the national assembly of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

The views expressed herein are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the opinions or editorial position of iWitness News. Opinion pieces can be submitted to news.iwitness@gmail.com.

The views expressed herein are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the opinions or editorial position of iWitness News. Opinion pieces can be submitted to news.iwitness@gmail.com.

4 replies on “Unlearn what you think you know about marijuana”

  1. I was having joints pain in both hands inside and outside and muscle weakness due to multiple sclerosis (MS). I was falling a lot, I had headaches and lightheadedness. I couldn’t keep myself balanced, and walk with a tremor like I cannot control my steps. I was on Copaxone, the first year was daily and later was 40 mg, 3 times a week. It didn’t make a tremendous difference for me. I’ve tried therapy, but it is not helping. I was seeking something to help regain my life to be able to do things for myself. It is frustrating when it feels like nobody is trying to help you find some relief. Through my primary physician i learnt about a (MS) herbal formula from NATURAL HERBAL GARDENS and their success rate with the treatment, i immediately started on the (MS) herbal protocol, I am glad to report the herbal formula worked effectively and there was no side effects, I had a total decline in symptoms, the joints pain, weakness and other symptoms stopped, my MS is totally REVERSED

  2. Jeanette Molitor Russell says:

    Well written Jomo! And true. Reinking marijuana as a useful medication is critical.

    I always find it interesting that in a group people say “no” but as individuals they understand the benefits of this herb. I always remember hurting my knee and having a Christian lady say she had an ointment that would work to reduce the swelling and ease the pain. She brought out a large bottle filled with a translucent green liquid with a piece of root sunk to the bottom. When she sopped a cloth to place on my knee the scent was recognizable and I mentioned that it smelled like marijuana. She laughed and said nothing work better than herb in cases like this.
    The decriminalization of Marijuana also has a direct impact on gang activity as they lose one of their most lucrative products.

  3. C. ben-David says:

    Unfortunately, your intelligent comments will fall on deaf political ears because the ruling regime, of which you are a key part, is hell bent on doing nothing else but maintaining its tenuous grip on power, something your leader has clearly implied — based on some public opinion polling, the details of which we are not privy to, that seemed to indicate that most Vincentians opposed the legalization of marijuana — a sure sign of political party that has lost its heart and soul.

    If the only goal of a political party is to maintain power as long as possible, all hope is lost for the true development of its country.

  4. C. ben-David says:

    Clothing, rope, and other items made from hemp are a red herring in this debate as is medical marijuana.

    The only issue that really counts is whether adults of sound mind have the right to injest smoke or any other derivative from any plant material to alter their consciousness as long as this does not represent a danger to other people even if it may represent some harm to the person in question.

    Everything else is a side issue or obscures this central legal and moral issue.

    As a libertarian, I do not believe that the state has a right to tell me what to put in my body as long as this doesn’t harm other people. Since marijuana has long been shown to be a relatively harmless substance especially compared to tobacco and alcohol, both legal substances, for both those who use it and those associated with them, the government should have as much say about it as it does about people consuming non-psychoactive substances.

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