Leading Anti-Marijuana Academics Are Paid By Painkiller Drug Companies

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This article originally appeared on VICE.com.

As Americans continue to embrace pot—as medicine and for recreational use—opponents are turning to a set of academic researchers to claim that policymakers should avoid relaxing restrictions around marijuana. It’s too dangerous, risky, and untested, they say. Just as drug company-funded research has become incredibly controversial in recent years, forcing major medical schools and journals to institute strict disclosure requirements, could there be a conflict of interest issue in the pot debate?

VICE has found that many of the researchers who have advocated against legalizing pot have also been on the payroll of leading pharmaceutical firms with products that could be easily replaced by using marijuana. When these individuals have been quoted in the media, their drug-industry ties have not been revealed.

Take, for example, Dr. Herbert Kleber of Columbia University. Kleber has impeccable academic credentials, and has been quoted in the press and in academic publications warning against the use of marijuana, which he stresses may cause wide-ranging addiction and public health issues. But when he’s writing anti-pot opinion pieces for CBS News, or being quoted by NPR and CNBC, what’s left unsaid is that Kleber has served as a paid consultant to leading prescription drug companies, including Purdue Pharma (the maker of OxyContin), Reckitt Benckiser (the producer of a painkiller called Nurofen), and Alkermes (the producer of a powerful new opioid called Zohydro).

Kleber, who did not respond to a request for comment, maintains important influence over the pot debate. For instance, his writing has been cited by the New York State Association of Chiefs of Police in its opposition to marijuana legalization, and has been published by the American Psychiatric Association in the organization’s statement warning against marijuana for medicinal uses.

Could Kleber’s long-term financial relationship with drug firms be viewed as a conflict of interest? Studies have found that pot can be used for pain relief as a substitute for major prescription painkillers. The opioid painkiller industry is a multibillion business that has faced rising criticism from experts because painkillers now cause about 16,000 deaths a year, more than heroin and cocaine combined. Researchers view marijuana as a safe alternative to opioid products like OxyContin, and there are no known overdose deaths from pot.

Dr. Herbert Kleber, an anti-marijuana doctor who has served as a paid consultant to Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin. Image via YouTube.

Other leading academic opponents of pot have ties to the painkiller industry. Dr. A. Eden Evins, an associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, is a frequent critic of efforts to legalize marijuana. She is on the board of an anti-marijuana advocacy group, Project SAM, and has been quoted by leading media outlets criticizing the wave of new pot-related reforms. “When people can go to a ‘clinic’ or ‘cafe’ and buy pot, that creates the perception that it’s safe,” she told the Times last year.

These academic revelations add fodder to the argument that drug firms maintain quiet ties to the marijuana prohibition lobby.

Notably, when Evins participated in a commentary on marijuana legalization for the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, the publication found that her financial relationships required a disclosure statement, which noted that as of November 2012, she was a “consultant for Pfizer and DLA Piper and has received grant/research support from Envivo, GlaxoSmithKline, and Pfizer.” Pfizer has moved aggressively into the $7.3 billion painkiller market. In 2011, the company acquired King Pharmaceuticals (the makers of several opioid products) and is currently working to introduce Remoxy, an OxyContin competitor.

Dr. Mark L. Kraus, who runs a private practice and is a board member to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, submitted testimony in 2012 in opposition to a medical marijuana law in Connecticut. According to financial disclosures, Kraus served on the scientific advisory panel for painkiller companies such as Pfizer and Reckitt Benckiser in the year prior to his activism against the medical pot bill. Neither Kraus or Evins responded to a request for comment.

These academic revelations add fodder to the argument that drug firms maintain quiet ties to the marijuana prohibition lobby. In July, I reported for the Nation that many of the largest anti-pot advocacy groups, including the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions for America, which has organized opposition to reform through its network of activists and through handing out advocacy material (sample op-eds against medical pot along with Reefer Madness-style videos, for example), has relied on significant funding from painkiller companies, including Purdue Pharma and Alkermes. Pharmaceutical-funded anti-drug groups like the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids and CADCA use their budget to obsess over weed while paying lip-service to the much bigger drug problem in America of over-prescribed opioids.

As ProPublica reported, painkiller-funded researchers helped fuel America’s deadly addiction to opioids such as OxyContin and Vicodin. These academics, with quiet funding from major pain pill firms, encouraged doctors to over-prescribe these drugs for a range of pain relief issues, leading to where we stand today as the world’s biggest consumer of painkillers and the overdose capital of the planet. What does it say about medical academia today that many of that painkiller-funded researchers are now standing in the way of a safer alternative: smoking a joint

First of its Kind Study Finds Virtually No Driving Impairment Under the Influence of Marijuana

As cannabis prohibition laws crumble seemingly by the day, it’s allowing more research to be performed on this psychoactive substance that has long been a part of the human experience.

The first study to analyze the effects of cannabis on driving performance found that it caused almost no impairment. The impairment that it did cause was similar to that observed under the influence of a legal alcohol limit.

Researchers at the University of Iowa’s National Advanced Driving Simulator carried out the study, sponsored by National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, National Institute of Drug Abuse, and the Office of National Drug Control Policy

“Once in the simulator—a 1996 Malibu sedan mounted in a 24-feet diameter dome—the drivers were assessed on weaving within the lane, how often the car left the lane, and the speed of the weaving. Drivers with only alcohol in their systems showed impairment in all three areas while those strictly under the influence of vaporized cannabis only demonstrated problems weaving within the lane.

Drivers with blood concentrations of 13.1 ug/L THC, or delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, the active ingredient in marijuana, showed increased weaving that was similar to those with a .08 breath alcohol concentration, the legal limit in most states. The legal limit for THC in Washington and Colorado is 5 ug/L, the same amount other states have considered.”

As expected, there was impairment in all areas when alcohol and cannabis were mixed. But cannabis itself, when taken in moderate amounts, seems to cause no significant driving impairment.

In fact, some would argue that it makes them drive safer or slower.

The study’s findings further illuminate the fact that alcohol is a much more dangerous drug than cannabis, and somehow the former is legal while the latter is not.

With cannabis being decriminalized across the country, law enforcement will be getting their “rules and regulations” in place for the driving masses. They should be based on science and not Reefer Madness mentalities.

Another important finding should deter any attempts to deploy instant roadside tests for THC-blood levels.

“The study also found that analyzing a driver’s oral fluids can detect recent use of marijuana but is not a reliable measure of impairment.

“Everyone wants a Breathalyzer which works for alcohol because alcohol is metabolized in the lungs,” says Andrew Spurgin, a postdoctoral research fellow with the UI College of Pharmacy. “But for cannabis this isn’t as simple due to THC’s metabolic and chemical properties.”

More from NORML

The American Academy of Family Physicians Calls for Marijuana Reform

By Tom Angell for Marijuana dot com

One of the largest medical organizations in the United States is calling for marijuana to be reclassified under federal law and decriminalized.

The American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), which represents 120,900 family physicians, family medicine residents and medical students, adopted two marijuana reform resolutions at its annual Congress of Delegates meeting in Denver on Wednesday.

“Drug Enforcement Administration scheduling of marijuana as a Schedule I drug prevents funding and legalization of research on the pharmacological properties of cannabinoids,” reads the rescheduling resolution sponsored by AAFP’s Minnesota chapter. The group supports “reclassifying marijuana from a Schedule I to a Schedule II drug by continued discussions with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as this will facilitate further research on the potential medical uses of pharmaceutical cannabinoids.”

The organization’s delegates also considered a broader resolution concerning marijuana legalization, sponsored by AAFP’s New York chapter.

The proposal would have put the organization officially in support of “laws to legalize possession and cultivation of marijuana for personal use for people over age 21,” further advocating that “a percentage of those funds to be used for substance abuse treatment if laws are passed regarding the taxation of marijuana.”

But, according to MedPage Today, some delegates at the meeting were uncomfortable going that far, so the resolution was amended to cover decriminalization only instead of full legalization.

In introducing the broader resolution, a New York delegate argued that marijuana should be treated “similar to alcohol. Although, we know it also has health impacts, we allow for people to make their own personal decisions, and don’t make it so much a legal issue, which we know is one of the harms of marijuana use.”

But a delegate from Colorado countered that “legalizing marijuana has not been simple in Colorado. A common idea is that if you legalize marijuana, the criminal activity will disappear. That’s not what happens.”

Another delegate added, “My issue with legalization is that legalization means profit.”

Ultimately, the Congress of Delegates limited the resolution’s scope to decriminalization and approved it.

AAFP has previously called for rescheduling of cannabis under federal law.

Read the full AAFP resolutions as introduced here.

The Amazing Health Benefits Of Cannabis And The Campaign To Legalise It In Britain

Safety of medical cannabis in treatment of chronic pain examined (TL;DR: it’s safe!)

Full text of study

Via Science Daily

A Canadian research team led by Dr. Mark Ware from the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre (RI-MUHC) in Montréal has completed a national multicentre study looking at the safety of medical cannabis use among patients suffering from chronic pain. They found that patients with chronic pain who used cannabis daily for one year, when carefully monitored, did not have an increase in serious adverse events compared to pain patients who did not use cannabis. The results, which have been published online in The Journal of Pain, will serve as a benchmark study on the side effects of cannabis when used in pain management.

“This is the first and largest study of the long term safety of medical cannabis use by patients suffering from chronic pain ever conducted,” says lead author, Dr. Ware, pain specialist at the Montreal General Hospital of the MUHC and associate professor in Family Medicine and Anesthesia at McGill University. “We found that medical cannabis, when used by patients who are experienced users, and as part of a monitored treatment program for chronic pain over one year, appears to have a reasonable safety profile.”

As part of the Cannabis for the Management of Pain: Assessment of Safety Study (COMPASS), that started in 2004, the researchers followed 215 adult patients, with chronic non-cancer pain, who used medical cannabis, and compared them to a control group of 216 chronic pain sufferers who were not cannabis users. The study involved seven centres with pain management expertise across Canada located in Fredericton, Halifax, London, Montreal (two sites), Toronto and Vancouver.

The cannabis users were given access to herbal cannabis containing 12.5 per cent THC from a licensed cannabis producer. Cannabis was dispensed through the hospital pharmacy at each site, and patients collected their supply every month after completing the necessary visits and tests. Along with information on adverse effects, subjects underwent lung function and cognitive testing, and were asked about their pain, mood and quality of life over the one year of follow up. A number of the subjects underwent complete panels of blood tests for routine biochemistry, liver and kidney function, and selected hormone levels. The average amount of cannabis used overall was 2.5 grams per day whether smoked, vaporized or taken as edibles.

“Our data show that daily cannabis users had no greater risk than non-users (control group) to experience serious adverse events,” Dr. Ware who is also a researcher from the Brain Repair and Integrative Neuroscience Program at the RI-MUHC. ”We found no evidence of harmful effects on cognitive function, or blood tests among cannabis consumers and we observed a significant improvement in their levels of pain, symptom distress, mood and quality of life compared to controls. ”

However, the researchers did report an increased risk of non-serious adverse events in medical cannabis consumers such as headache, nausea, dizziness, somnolence, and respiratory problems associated with smoking.

“It is important to note the limitations of the study,” adds Dr. Ware. “Patients were self-selected, not randomized, and most were experienced users. So what we are seeing is that it appears to be a relatively safe drug when used by people who have already determined that it helps them. We cannot draw conclusions about safety issues of new cannabis users.”

Thom Hartmann: blowing up big marijuana myths

Pioneer Pot States Have Collected More Than $200 Million In Marijuana Taxes

Craig F. Walker via Getty Images

HuffPo The first two states to legalize recreational marijuana have collectively raked in at least $200 million in marijuana tax revenue, according to the latest tax data — and they’re putting those dollars to good use.

In Colorado, after about a year and a half of legal recreational marijuana sales, the state has collected more than $117 million in excise taxes from both the recreational and medical marijuana markets, according to the most recent data from the Colorado Department of Revenue. Continue reading