Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN, and Marijuana

Medical marijuana doesn’t just improve lives, it saves them – and the world is taking notice, including CNN.

In an hour-long special Aug. 11 titled “Weed,” CNN’s Sanjay Gupta explored the modern science of pot, including its medical benefits. He delved into the effects of weed on the brain and claims of marijuana addiction, and followed the stories of two young people whose lives were virtually saved by medical marijuana.

Just days earlier, Gupta apologized on Pierce Morgan’s talk show for his previous opposition to medicinal marijuana, saying the American people had been misled about the realities of cannabis. The special report tracked his own research into pot as a drug and a medicine.

Gupta told the story of Charlotte Figi, a young Colorado girl with a seizure disorder whose parents turned to medical marijuana in a last-ditch effort to save her from permanent catatonia and an early death. It worked, almost miraculously, and she returned to full life.

He also followed 19-year-old Chaz Moore, who suffers from myoclonus diaphragmatic flutter, which causes his diaphragm to convulse painfully. That makes it hard to breathe and often sends him to the hospital. A single toke stops the convulsions instantly and also allows him to stop taking dangerous, addictive prescription medications.

Moore credited medical pot with saving his life. And he pointed out a statistic Gupta backed up as fact: There is not a single report of an overdose on weed in medical literature, whereas someone dies from a prescription drug overdose in the United States every 19 minutes.

The CNN special also explored medical marijuana studies around the world, especially in Israel, where research suggests pot has widespread health benefits – and may even have the potential to kill cancer. Medical weed is widely used in Israel. Some hospital patients use it, and there are nursing homes where it’s allowed for elderly residents.

Research in the U.S. rarely looks very closely at the good side of pot, largely because anti-drug forces in the federal government block studies that don’t conform to their agenda. There are a few here and there, but Charlotte Figi’s doctor, Alan Shackelford, told Gupta American medicine will have to open its eyes to international evidence before our healthcare system will progress.

As it stands now, for example, every leading medical authority on the subject refuses to acknowledge Charlotte’s condition can be treated by pot, despite mounting evidence to the contrary.

Gupta’s special also looked at the science of weed on the brain. Marijuana, like other drugs, stimulates dopamine, which triggers pleasure, hunger and sexual drive. It also disrupts judgment, coordination and concentration, though these effects are temporary.

In fact, these disruptions are apparently limited in habitual users, including medical tokers. A driving test conducted by a CNN affiliate – and Gupta’s experience driving around with Moore – suggests chronic users who’ve been smoking are less dangerous at the wheel than are occasional users.

There is an addiction trend with marijuana, according to the show, but it affects only 9 percent of smokers, compared with 15 percent for alcohol, 17 percent for cocaine, 23 percent for heroin and 32 percent for nicotine (notably, an expert with the National Institute on Drug Abuse rated cannabis less addictive than caffeine). What’s more, unlike all those addictions, cannabis dependence is primarily psychological, not physiological, making withdrawal from the drug easier in most cases.

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