Suppress and Ignore

Cannabis in culture and medicine has a long history of governments commissioning studies with the intent to prove its lack of worth and danger which, in turn have come to the opposite conclusions.  Governments' response has been to suppress those studies and to make it policy for it to be illegal to conduct any study proving cannabis' worth as a drug.

As early as the 1890's, the British government commissioned a study in India, where cannabis use was prevalent to assess its potential for harm, especially on the military.  It was titled "The Indian Hemp Drugs Report" published in 1894.  The wiki page can be found here and the main body of the report can be found here.

The report was intended to assess the physical, mental, and moral effects of marijuana and used the medical evidence from 335 medical physicians from around India.  Almost all of the medical officers' reports were similar to the statement of Surgeon-Captain Prain (witness number 113) who said, "I do not believe that the habitual moderate use of any of these drugs produces any noxious effects - physical, mental, or moral.  I think that perhaps the use of bhang does injure the digestion and impair appetite even when used moderately, but I am convinced that it neither causes dysentery, bronchitis, or asthma."  Around the country, the reports were very similar, if not identical from military doctors.  Some had concerns when excessive use was encountered but, even then, could find little negative consequence.

The United States, in 1925 in Panama, conducted its own study of cannabis and its effects, again with the concern it might be having deleterious effects on its troops.  It was conducted by Colonel Joseph Franklin Siler and its report and the subsequent re-analyses that occurred in 1929-1931 concluded that even when soldiers smoked 8 to 10 marijuana cigarettes per day, they showed "no ill effects from smoking mariajuana for several days in succession were observed even when the soldiers were given mariajuana ad libitum."  They described that soldiers' appetite increased, showed mild intoxication that lasted 30 minutes to an hour, and that they had no tendencies towards "combativeness or destructiveness."  They reported an increase in heart rate but no increase in blood pressure.  The report also stated, "There is no evidence that mariahuana as grown here is a “habit forming” drug in the sense in which the term is applied to alcohol, opium, cocaine, etc., or that it has any appreciably deleterious influence on the individuals using it". 

Although the military commission still recommended to keep it illegal on military reservations for morale reasons, they "With the evidence obtained and considered by the committee no recommendations for further legislative action to prevent the sale or use of mariajuana (sic) in the Canal Zone, Panama, are deemed advisable under existing conditions."  The finding of the report can be found here.  The military, not believing the results, re-evaluated cannabis in 1929 but came to the same conclusions stating, "the inquiry into the use of mariajuana (sic) by soldiers of the Department had been in effect a full year. The reports of the twelve months indicate that the use of the drug is not widespread and that its effects upon military efficiency and upon discipline are not great. There appears to be no reason for reviving the penalties formerly exacted for the possession and the use of the drug."

The results of the commissions by the US Military reflected what the British Military had previously discovered but the Congress, as they are wont to do, chose to ignore the evidence and the reports have languished in obscurity.  In fact, they proceeded to pass the Marihuana Tax Act in 1937 that was simply designed to make it economically infeasible for doctors or pharmacists to prescribe or dispense it since, at the time, it was thought that the federal government could not restrict the behavior of medical doctors, only states could.  Harry Anslinger and his individual biases were largely responsible for these travesties of law.

The United States, under President Nixon, wanted to prove the horrible nature of cannabis by commission after the 1969 Leary v. United States case invalidated the 1937 Marihuana Tax Act and he commissioned PA Governor Ray Shafer to head it with the idea of a quid pro quo offer of receiving a federal judgeship on the US Third Circuit Court of Appeals from Nixon. 

The Shafer Commission was started 1971 with the idea of proving the deleterious nature of cannabis but issued its conclusions in 1972 (results can be found here). In it, the Shafer Commission came to the opposite conclusions and has some very important details which are useful to break down. 

On dependence, the report stated that physical dependence and withdrawal were not found but they did find significant psychological dependence.  The commission concluded, "The researchers conclude that A1 THC lacks the reinforcing effects of psychomotor stimulants and depressants which monkeys readily self infuse with no auxiliary incentives. Also Delta 9 THC lacks a reinforcing function even for monkeys that are well-trained with cocaine and have experienced several days of rather large quantities of Delta 9 THC during the early pleases of extinction of the cocaine reinforced response.  Finally, the results demonstrate that a two week period of exposure to Al THC (in a mixed solution with cocaine) does not result in the degree of homeostatic imbalance which occurs with morphine, ethanol, barbiturates and sometimes the amphetamines which accounts for the continued self-administration of these drugs."

On the persistence of acute effects, the report had this to say "Investigators have not noted persistent effects after smoking marihuana for periods of more than three to five hours (Fink et al., 1971; Weil et al., 1968; Pillard, 1970).  Users report only minimal hangover effects (Mayor's Committee, 1944; Haines and Green, 1970; McGlothlin et al., 1971) after very heavy use. Feelings of lassitude and heaviness of the head, lethargy, irritability, headaches and loss of concentration are reported especially when associated with lack of sleep (Chopra and Chopra, 1939; Indian Hemp, 1893). This may be related to preliminary data (Rickles et al., 1970) suggesting a subtle increase in REM sleep time primarily seen in the last one-third of the night in individuals who smoked one to two cigarettes per day usually at night for at least a year."

Overall, the report indicated a very low risk of dependence and abuse potential and very few side effects from prolonged use.  Despite this, Nixon buried the report and Congress passed the Uniform Controlled Substances Act which ignored all available data and placed cannabis on Schedule I, indicating it has no medicinal use and has the most severe risks for dependence and abuse.

The burying of the available evidence to support a racially and culturally biased view has gone on to result in the imprisoning of millions and the deprivation of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness on an unacceptable scale.  The regulatory bodies of the FDA, DEA, and Justice Department have ignored the government's own commissioned evidence and placed cannabis in Schedule I in violation of their own standards.  It is time, now that the Marinol and Epidiolex (and likely Sativex soon) FDA approvals has proven medical cannabis' medical worth, that the FDA and the rest of the government reverse the suppression of its own commissions and remove it from the Uniform Controlled Substances Act.  To do anything less is medically irresponsible, intellectually false, and socially reprehensible.


Ethan Carruthers