Gupta Reverses Stance on Medical Marijuana

The benefits of marijuana as a medical salve have won over another important voice in the public health community.

CNN’s Sanjay Gupta, a neurosurgeon and long an opponent of cannabis legalization, apologized for that stance and said the American public had been misled by biased research that focuses only on pot’s negative characteristics. Research from around the world, Gupta said, shows that weed has great medicinal promise.

“I think we have been terribly and systematically misled in this country for some time, and I did part of that misleading,” he told CNN’s Piers Morgan during an interview on Aug. 8.

“I think it is irresponsible of the medical community not to offer [marijuana] as an alternative.” -Dr. Sanjay Gupta

Repeated studies, both American and international, have demonstrated the effectiveness of marijuana as a treatment for glaucoma, nausea and vomiting, certain types of pain, and inability to eat in patients with HIV/AIDS and cancer, among several other disorders. Additional research suggests it’s beneficial in many more conditions, from multiple sclerosis to alcoholism.

But research funded by the U.S. government tends to start with the biased presumption, advocated by the Obama administration, that weed is a dangerous narcotic with no acknowledged medicinal applications and a grave potential for abuse. Gupta refuted that notion.

“Right now it’s in the category of the most dangerous substances in America,” Gupta said. “Addiction is possibly real, about 9 percent, to put it in context. Cocaine is about 20 percent, that’s actually considered less dangerous than marijuana. Alcohol has a higher rate of addiction, and smoking, 30 percent, and that leads to far more deaths than marijuana.”

Still, many in the American medical and research communities follow the government’s lead – though not all. The American Medical Association, along with several smaller doctors’ organizations, has asked the administration to reclassify pot so it can be subjected to further study.

Gupta said there is “no scientific basis” to claim pot has no medical applications. And he pointed out that researchers have yet to cite a single death linked directly to marijuana consumption, while thousands die from prescription drug overdoses every year.

Sanjay Gupta
Sanjay Gupta, American neurosurgeon and an assistant professor of neurosurgery at Emory University School of Medicine, reverses his stance on medical marijuana.

“I think it is irresponsible of the medical community not to offer this as an alternative,” he said. “I couldn’t find one documented case of someone dying of a marijuana overdose.”

Changing Public Opinion

Gupta, like Morgan, admitted to using weed “a while ago,” though he said he “didn’t particularly care for it, actually. It made me kind of anxious, and it wasn’t a very pleasant feeling, I think.”

In a column published on the CNN Web site, Gupta wrote that he used to consider medical marijuana patients “high-visibility malingerers, just looking to get high.” Now, he says, weed “doesn’t have a high potential for abuse, and there are very legitimate medical applications. In fact, sometimes marijuana is the only thing that works.”

Twenty states have legalized medical marijuana, including two, Washington and Colorado, that have gone a step further and legalized recreational cannabis. But pot remains illegal at the federal level, where it is designated a Schedule 1 narcotic, the category reserved for the most dangerous drugs with no medical value and a high risk of abuse – a category that includes heroin, LSD, ecstasy and peyote. Even cocaine, methamphetamine and PCP are rated less dangerous than marijuana.

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