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A Harvard Medical School Professor Tells About His Son Who Suffered From Cancer PDF Print E-mail
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Grey Literature - DPF: Drug Prohibition & Conscience of Nations 1990
Written by Lester Grinspoon   
Monday, 01 October 1990 00:00

I, Lester Grinspoon, being first duly sworn, states as follows:

1. My name is Lester Grinspoon. I am a medical doctor and an Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. I practice, teach and do research at the Massachusetts Mental Health Cen-ter in Boston, Mass.

2. I began to study cannabis in 1967, and by the time I published my book in 1971, I had learned that much of what I thought I knew about it had been wrong. In fact, that is the reason I gave my book the title Marihuana Reconsidered (Harvard University Press, 1971, Second Edition, 1978). Among other things, I learned that cannabis was used extensively in medicine from the mid-19th century until the passage of the Marijuana Tax Act in 1937. Nineteenth century physicians understood the many medical uses of cannabis and had no doubt about its safety. But at the time my book was published, I could not have anticipated that I would have a personal encounter with cannabis as a medicine.

3. Early in 1972, after the death of Dr. Sidney Farber, the Harvard child oncologist for whom the Sidney Farber Cancer Research Center was named, my wife and I were invited to dinner at the home of a fellow Harvard Medical School faculty member who was eager to have me meet Dr. Emil Frei. Dr. Frei had recently arrived from Houston, Texas, to serve as Dr. Farber's successor. At dinner he told me the following story: an 18-year-old Houston man suffering from leukemia had become more and more re-sistant to cancer chemo-therapy because he could no longer tolerate the nausea and vomiting. It was becom-ing increasingly difficult for his doctors and his family to persuade him to take the drug on which his life de-pended. One day, to Dr. Frei's surprise, he willingly agreed to take the drug, and from then on offered no resistance to chemotherapy. It was some time before Dr. Frei could get the young man to explain that he had started smoking marijuana about 20 minutes before each chemotherapy session. The marijuana seemed to prevent all vomiting and even the slightest hint of nausea. Knowing of my work, Dr. Frei asked me if the 19th century medical litera-ture on cannabis supported such a possibility. I told him that it did.

4. On the way home, my wife Betsy, who had listened intently to the discussion, suggested that we obtain some cannabis for our son, Daniel. Daniel was first diagnosed as having acute lymphatic leukemia in July of 1967. For the first few years he was quite good-natured about his trips to the Jimmy Fund Building of the Children's Hospital in Bos-ton for his treatments, and even about the occasional need to be hospitalized. But in 1971, he started taking the first of the chemotherapy agents that cause severe nausea and vomiting.

5. For many patients, including Daniel, the nausea and vomiting are uncontrollable and not sufficiently alleviated by standard antiemetics. He would start to vomit shortly after treatment and continue vomiting and later retching for up to eight hours. He vomited in the car on the way home. Once he arrived home he had to lie in bed with his head over a bucket on the floor.

6. These were awful, demoralizing experiences for all of us. In 1972, Daniel, who had been so courageous about his illness and its treatment, began to resist taking chemotherapy. He begged us not to insist on any more treatments.

7. It was our practice for my wife to drive Daniel in from Wellesley and meet me at the Jimmy Fund Building. I dreaded those pretreatment sessions.

8. I was shocked when Betsy suggested that we acquire some cannabis for Daniel. I objected strenuously, because it was against the law and might embarrass the staff' at the Farber Cancer Research Institute, who had been so remarkable in their commitment to Daniel's care. I dismissed the idea that night.

9. Daniel's next treatment was about two weeks later. When I arrived, Betsy and Daniel were al-ready in the treatment room. I shall never forget my surprise when I walked in. Previously, I had been able to see the tension on their faces. This time they were both completely relaxed, and what is more, seemed almost to be playing some sort of joke on me. I was delighted and puzzled. Finally, they let me in on the secret. On the way to the clinic that morning, they had stopped near Wellesley High School. Betsy asked Daniel's friend Mark to get her some marijuana. Mark, once he recovered from his disbelief, ran off and reappeared a few minutes later with a small amount of mari-juana in his hand. Betsy drove to the hospital, and she and Daniel smoked marijuana in the parking lot just before they went into the clinic. I was shocked, but at the same time relieved that Daniel seemed so comfortable. Daniel was not at all con-vinced that marijuana would solve his problem, but he did not protest as he was given the medicine. He was as surprised and pleased as we were when there was no nausea or vomiting afterward. In fact, he asked Betsy if he could stop for a submarine sandwich on the way home, and when he arrived at home he did not take to his bed but went right to his usual activities. We could scarcely believe it.

10. The next day, I called Dr. Norman Jaffe, the physician at the Jimmy Fund who was in charge of Daniel's care. I explained what had happened and told him that, although I did not want to embar-rass him or the rest of the medical staff, I could not forbid Daniel to smoke marijuana before his next treatment. Dr. Jaffe was very interested in my story and suggested that Daniel smoke marijuana in his presence in the treatment room. Daniel did that the next time. 'When the chemotherapeutic was given to him, Dr. Jaffe observed for himself that Daniel was completely relaxed and did not protest at all. Afterward, he did not become nau-seated and again asked for a submarine sandwich. From then on, he used marijuana before every treatment, and we were all much more comfort-able during the remaining year of his life.

11. Dr. Jaffe asked me to join him in reporting our observations to Dr. Frei, who was sufficiently in-terested to do the first clinical experiment on the use of cannabis in cancer chemotherapy.

12. It saddens me that 15 years later it is still not legally possible to use cannabis in this way, although surreptitious illegal use is widespread, at least among adults with cancer. Oral tetrahydrocannabinol [now marketed as Marinol] is clearly less effective than smoked cannabis, which, shamefully, has not yet achieved its rightful place in the oncological armamentarium.




Affidavit of Lester Grinspoon, M.D., "In the Matter of Marijuana Rescheduling Petition," Dkt. 86-22 (U.S. Depart-ment of justice, Drug Enforcement Administration, September 1987).


Our valuable member Lester Grinspoon has been with us since Sunday, 19 December 2010.

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