*As cancer survivor, I find it discouraging and disappointing that the Drug Enforcement Admin-istration has rejected the recommendation of its own chief administrative law judge that marijuana be reclassified to allow doctors to prescribe it. The judge, Francis L. Young, described it as "one of the safest therapeutically active substances known to man."
The anti-nausea properties of marijuana had only recently come to light when I was being treated for throat cancer in 1976. I had just turned 17 when my cobalt treatments began....
When I became nauseous, I was given injections of some drug (I was never told the narne) that had no perceptible effect on my vomiting. I was also given barbituate suppositories, whidi were slow to take effect and didn't seem to help much either.
For the most part, though, I had to put up with the vomiting without any medicine to relieve it. Vomiting through a throat, nose and mouth that had been scorched by radiation is torture. So are dry heaves — bending over a toilet and trying to vomit with an empty stomach.
Needless to say, I lost weight. There was little incentive to eat after radiation had disabled my taste buds. I was 6 foot 1, and had dipped below 120 pounds. I was able to get marijuana, sporadi-cally, after my family moved into a San Antonio neighborhood. I have no recollection of ever throwing up while under the influence of mari-juana, which is more than I can say for the legally prescribed drugs I was given.
Once, my father announced he had dug up and thrown away marijuana seedlings found grow-ing wild in the backyard, apparently sprouted from seeds dropped by neighborhood teenagers. I fished the plants out of the garbage and dried the leaves over a lamp in my room. There was barely enough for one thin cigarette, which I smoked. I felt better than I had in weeks, forgot about my nausea and was actually able to eat without forcing myself. I didn't mind that I could not taste the food, because the "munchies" (the desire for any food, especially sweets) caused by marijuana was overpowering.
A couple of times, I was able to smoke marijuana (obtained from new friends in the neighborhood) before I went to the hospital for out-patient cobalt treatrnents. This was a big help because the radiation, when directed at my throat from certain angles, would momentarily create ozone in my throat and nose. The smell of the ozone was sickening, and I had to learn to hold my breath and exhale sharply through my nose at the exact moment the machine clicked on to keep from being overwhelmed and vomiting. The marijuana made this experience much more tolerable, because it suppressed the nausea.
The combined effects of the cancer and radia-tion severely damaged my ears. I had to go to the hospital every other week to have my ear canals cleared of dried blood, wax and other discharges. It often caused a great deal of physical discomfort and anxiety, like an especially harrowing dental procedure.
One time, when I had smoked marijuana be-fore hand, the doctor was surprised when I started giggling. Instead of suffering, I felt as if I were being tickled.
So it is ironic that the DEA Administrator, John C. Lawn, cites doubts about safety as one of the reasons for reclassifying marijuana so that, while it would be unavailable to the general public, it could still be prescribed.
Many cancer chemotherapy drugs have such onerous side effects that they can only be justified as a desperate measure against a relentless killer. We trust doctors to judiciously prescribe some of the deadliest substances known to man, yet we balk at a relatively innocuous drug like marijuana.
Obviously, safety is not the real issue. Politics is the issue. To permit marijuana would be a blow to President Bush's war on drugs. Patients would be able to use it openly and to discuss its effects — good, bad, indifferent — without fear of being labeled lawbreakers. If everybody had a cousin, grandmother or neighbor who had used marijuana, found it harmless and said so, it could greatly shake the public's confidence in the antidrug zealots.
Jim Hankins, "Casualties of the Drug War," The New York Times, Jan. 31, 1989, p. A27.