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June 15, 2008

E-Mail Exchange

The following e-mail exchange with a stranger took place late last year because one of my remaining allies in the “movement” put me in touch with someone he met at the NORML conference in Los Angeles
What follows is a composite of the e-maill he sent me (blue) and my response (red).

And yes, the disaster in Iowa continues its rapid fade from media consciousness, which continues riveted on the coming election.

On 10/15/07, J___ R_____ wrote:
I really need to talk to someone (probably a psychiatrist). I am hoping you might have recommendations about someone that would not only understand marijuana but would also know that it is possible someone can experience improved breathing using marijuana. It is also important that they understand the relief and ramifications that happen because of fuller deeper breathing. I am hoping to find someone that will  listen to my struggle with this drug. I will be 55 in Dec. and I did not start smoking cannabis until about 4 years ago. I tried it for asthma after reading about it on the Internet and reports some people had gotten significant relief. Unlike the many other asthma drugs I had taken and tried over 40 years, the marijuana gave me significant relief. Life changing relief. I could breathe in a way I never thought possible.

Dear J____,
I'm not a psychiatrist, but I am well qualified to tackle the questions you've posed, which are even more complex than you may realize. The only reason I'm so qualified is that I've been listening patiently to thousands of pot smokers seeking to use marijuana medically in California for the past six years and finally think I understand what they've been saying well enough to explain it to others; especially people like yourself who have their own reasons for being curious about a scorned illegal drug.

This did not fit my world in any way. It definitely did not fit my family's world. I am from a conservative Christian background. Please don't write me off as a mental midget or decide I can't be trusted, please. My world is upside down.

I also have come to understand some of the many ways that  the beliefs a child grows up with influence  both the emotions and thinking of the adult that child will gradually become over their first twenty-five or so years. Those attitudes seem especially dependent on two things: one is their experience at home between 4 and 12 when capacity for abstract thought is not fully developed; the other is the array of drugs available for them to try from Junior High School on.

I attended the NORML conference on a soul searching mission to determine how important marijuana was to me and hopefully to get information to help persuade my family that marijuana really was beneficial for me and my asthma. I have a great family. I am not only talking about my wife that I have been married to for 37 years, but my son in college in PreMed and 37 year old married daughter. I have a wonderful son in law and 4 fabulous grand kids. I also have a father and mother, and three brothers and their families that live in Amarillo. They are really great people and I love them all. They are convinced that marijuana is satanic.

What you have just described is the setting for conflict between two opposing ideas: one is that because marijuana is sinful, it can't possibly be medicine. This is not a medical idea, although the US federal government has spent literally billions of taxpayer dollars trying to convince the world it’s responsible Public Health. Their campaign has succeeded best in those areas where the kind of religious beliefs you describe are strongest.

On the other side of the conflict is knowledge that cannabis ("marijuana") a complex herbal medicine, has the ability to relieve the symptoms of a wide variety of conditions, one of which is asthma. Cannabis predictably does two things asthmatics find valuable: it directly reduces bronchospasm and also helps mobilize the sticky secretions that must be coughed up. For at least some asthmatics, it does those things  better and more predictably than the gamut of "approved" asthma medications. As with several  other debilitating illnesses, even a little bit of relief can make a huge difference in one's day-to-day ability to function.

Thus the dilemma you are hung up on is between your family's faith-based belief in an irrational policy masquerading as public health and the practical realities of the clinical pharmacology of pot.

They are wrong. If I had been in their shoes I probably would have thought the same thing. It does not appear that I am going to be able to convince them of the benefits of this medicine for me at this time. I have hope they will come around sometime in the future, although it doesn't appear to be any time soon.

I agree. The next question you have to answer for yourself is whether you are willing to defy their beliefs or will continue to suffer from symptoms that can be safely relieved.

I feel like an astronaut who returns from a trip to the moon and when he gets home, there is no one to relate to regarding the life changing experiences he has gone through. That is how I feel about my experience with marijuana.

Well put. I had a similar experience when I returned to San Francisco in August 1967, ten years after I'd come here for an internship in July '57. What I found was that the city I'd come to describe as the alcohol capital of North America had become its pot capital. How that happened in such a brief interval is the untold story of the drug war...

I have tried to figure out how to explain what I am going through. Basically with my family, it is renounce the marijuana and go forward acknowledging that mistake or lose my family.

As I said earlier, this has been a real soul searching time for me. I had to know if marijuana is worth this great a price. I have decided it is something I have to do.

You are the only one who can make that cruel choice; All I can do is give you some background. To put it as simply as possible, what adolescents who have come of age since the Baby Boom have discovered when they reach Junior High is a well developed illegal pot market that began in the late Sixties and has made pot as easily available to "kids" as alcohol and tobacco. What we know from the government's own statistics is that pot has remained third among all drugs tried by kids all over the nation. No other illegal drug comes close; either  in terms of those who try it or go on to long term use.

Nevertheless, there are many kids, often from family backgrounds like yours,  who didn't try pot, precisely because they were nurtured by loving parents. However, if they develop a medical condition helped by pot, they can  find themselves facing the difficult choice you’re struggling with now. Limited experience with others who tried pot in HS, but didn’t become “chronic” users also suggests that trying it while still a teen is like giving yourself permission to use it as medicine later on.

It appears that I am going to have to separate from my family and move to a more marijuana friendly city, and hope that in the future as more information comes out they will understand they are wrong. It is a long story regarding this path I have been traveling, but I have hope. I also know that I can live a better life than I have in the past. I can be a better kinder person. I am not a criminal and I am excited about the future. I can breathe and that is a fantastic thing to be able to do.

I am also hoping you are not wishing you had not given me your email address.

J____ R_____

I can't think of any of the 4000-plus patients I've seen in the past six years  (all seeking my recommendation to use medical marijuana) who has stated the problem any more succinctly; Cannabis is safe and effective medicine precisely because when it's inhaled, it allows for very precise user control. It also works so well against such a wide variety of symptoms that people with a limited knowledge of its clinical pharmacology and a belief that all non medical use is wrong often end up supporting the arrest and prosecution of users I know to be "legitimate".

The only antidote I know of for such political/religious ignorance is the truth.
Tom O'Connell MD

Posted by tjeffo at June 15, 2008 05:59 PM