MARIJUANA: TO BE OR NOT TO BE

Marijuana (scientific name: Cannabis sativa) is the news again not because of its illegal use but due to its medicinal properties.  

The Dangerous Drugs Board has approved “in principle” a resolution which allowed the use of cannabidiol (CBD) “for alleviating severe forms of epilepsy,” according to a news report by Philippine Daily Inquirer.  CBD is a non-psychoactive component of marijuana.  Unlike the real thing, it won’t get a person high.

Epilepsy is the name for a group of disorders of the brain characterized by a tendency to recurrent seizures or convulsions or “fits.”  In the Philippines, an estimated 750,000 people have epilepsy.

The Geneva-based World Health Organization (WHO) estimates some 50 million people around the world with epilepsy.  “A vast majority of people with epilepsy in many resource-poor regions do not receive treatment,” the United Nations health agency points out.

Without treatment, people with epilepsy can suffer psychological distress, physical injuries and social stigma.  “More than 70% of patients who are treated with anti-epileptic drugs are fee from seizures within 5 years of diagnosis,” the WHO says.

One of those identified treatments is CBD.  “In humans, CBD exhibits no effects indicative of any abuse or dependence potential,” the WHO says.  “To date, there is no evidence of public health-related problems associated with the use of pure CBD.”

A couple of years back, when asked by a television reporter on the subject of marijuana, President Rodrigo R. Duterte replied: “Medical marijuana, yes, because it is really an ingredient of modern medicine.  There are medicines being developed, or are now in the market, that contain marijuana for medical purposes.”

But in speech last year, the president indicated that he was no longer in favor of legalizing marijuana for medicinal purposes.  “That’s a plant, marijuana.  They are cultivated.  They’ll give you the excuse to harvest and say it’s medicinal,” Duterte was quoted as saying. “Everything will be medicinal, that would be an excuse.  I did not agree to it.  Not in my time.  Some other President, maybe.”

But the questions remains: Should the use of marijuana for medical purposes be legalized in the country?  The author posed this question in his social media account recently.  There were several who shared their thoughts.

The first person to make his comment was a medical doctor.  “Medical marijuana is used for ‘palliative care’ (for chronic pain, nausea for patients undergoing chemotherapy, certain seizure disorders, etc.),” he explained. “There are ‘conventional’ medicines with fewer side effects that can address these conditions.  Legalizing medical marijuana is going to create more problems that it seeks to treat.  We must be careful what we wish for.”

A friend, whose father had a cancer, shared this sentiment: “There are regulated drugs that you can buy in pharmacies that require prescription from doctors.  I just can’t remember the color codes but when I was at the pharmacy, I was interrogated.  Strict verification was done before I was given that strong pain reliever for my dad.  Should marijuana be legalized for medical purpose, it should follow the same regulation?”

A journalist from Cagayan de Oro City seemed to go for it.  “If it’s for medication, why not?” To which another one added, “As long as it is used for medical purposes.”

Another journalist from Manila, a female, also voted for the legalization of medical marijuana.  “A lot of cultures, including ours, have long used marijuana for its medicinal properties.  It’s just like a cough syrup; it’s bad if you take too much.  It’s time we harness marijuana’s medicinal properties.”

But there are also those who oppose it.  “So, you want more drug abuse in the Philippines?” one inquired.  Another contemplated: “Cigarettes are more harmful than cannabis.  So legal is not always ethical.”

It must be recalled that in 2014, Isabela representative Rodolfo Albano III filed House Bill No. 4477 – the Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Act.  The Philippine Daily Inquirer described the bill as a “hotly-debated topic.”

“We are at this stage, we have Filipinos who need care, we should give them compassionate care – this medical cannabis. There are a lot of medicines, but they are expensive,” Leah Paquiz, one of the bill’s co-authors, was quoted as saying.

The bill was rejected during the 16th Congress.  But in 2017, the House of Representatives Committee on Health approved House Bill 180 or the Philippine Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act. 

“The legalization of HB 180 has a long way to go,” the website, marijuanadoctors.com observed. “It will likely be revised countless times and go through a series of debates and amendments. Then, it will go to a vote in the House of Representatives, and a counterpart will be voted on by the Senate. Only once it’s approved by both houses will it go before the president to either sign or veto. The bill has some vocal detractors, so it may take a while to pass.”

The website said that only the Medical Cannabis Compassionate Centers (MCCCs) and Medical Cannabis Research and Safety Compliance Facilities licensed by the Department of Health “will be authorized to cultivate medical marijuana.”  In addition, “only MCCCs can distribute cannabis medications to patients. If the new law passes, only these facilities, medical marijuana patients and caregivers will be exempt from civil and criminal liability.”

The Cannabis Act has set number of conditions to qualify patients for medical marijuana treatments. Among the debilitating conditions included are cancer, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, spinal cord damage or intractable spasticity, post-traumatic stress disorder, human immunodeficiency virus and acquired immune deficiency syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis or other chronic autoimmune inflammatory disorders, and admission to hospice care.

It must be pointed out here that marijuana isn’t legalized yet in the country.  The penalty for possession has some serious consequences, depending on the amount a person carries.  If the authorities catch a person carrying ten grams or more, the penalty ranges from life in prison to the death penalty and a fine ranging from half million to 10 million pesos. 

If it is between five and ten grams, the penalty ranges from 20 years to life imprisonment and a fine ranging from P400,000 to P500,000.  If it is less than five grams, the penalty is 12 to 20 years in prison and a fine ranging from P300,000 to P400,000.

By just possessing a drug paraphernalia and equipment, the penalty is six months to four years in prison and ranging from P10,000 to P50,000. 

Historical records show the use of marijuana dates back as far as 12,000 years, according to information in the book Marihuana: The First Twelve Thousand Years.  This makes the plant among humanity’s oldest cultivated crops.

“For the most part, it was widely used for medicine and spiritual purposes,” during pre-modern times, said Barney Warf, a professor of geography at the University of Kansas in Lawrence. The Vikings and medieval Germans reportedly used cannabis for relieving pain during childbirth and for toothaches.

Newsweek, the American weekly news magazine, reported that hash, the potent form of marijuana, was a common cure for lockjaw and other nagging, painful diseases throughout the 19th century.  It was also used as an anesthetic.  “An archaeological find in the city of Beit Shemesh uncovered hashish in the stomach of the 1,623-year-old remains of a 14-year-old girl who had died in childbirth,” it said.

“The idea that this is an evil drug is a very recent construction,” and the fact that it is illegal is a “historical anomaly,” Warf said. 

“The history of cannabis prohibition in the Western world is a long one, often interspersed with tangents into the history of race and class relations, economics and military history,” the Newsweek said.  In 1798, Napoleon Bonaparte made it a crime for his French soldiers to smoke hashish they had developed a taste for while conquering Egypt.

Cannabis plants are believed to have evolved on the steps of Central Asia.  The plant was introduced into the United States at the start of the 20th century – no thanks to Mexican, who were fleeing from their country during the Mexican Revolution of 1910-1911, according to Agata Blaszczak-Boxe, contributing writer for Live Science.

“Many early prejudices against marijuana were thinly veiled racist fears of its smokers, often promulgated by reactionary newspapers,” Warf wrote in his report. “Mexicans were frequently blamed for smoking marijuana, property crimes, seducing children and engaging in murderous sprees.”

Two years ago, when the year was about to end, Newsweek carried a special report believing 2018 will go down in history as “a year of global change” – as far as marijuana was concerned.

“We’ve seen massive changes overtake a global cannabis culture already establishing itself at a remarkable pace,” the American weekly magazine pointed out.  “Canada has joined Uruguay as the second country in the world to legalize cannabis for adult use, markets in the U.S. are growing with every election season, and even countries like Lebanon – whose long-standing diplomatic efforts with the West and its drug warriors caused a long tradition of excellent cannabis to fall by the wayside – are rethinking their relationship to the plant.”  – ###

(Photos taken from the net)