What if you woke up one morning to the following headlines:

I'd say that it would be a pretty good news day for science, wouldn't you? The fact is, these headlines have been published. All you need do is click on the links and see their source.

So I awoke this morning to a bit of an annoyance...

Now obviously, this isn't much by way of hard news. NPR ran this as a piece on their public news blog, "The Two-Way" which is a place for a lighter and more interactive take on the news. Fine and dandy.

But did we have to have this again? Seriously, is there no way a news organization can discuss cannabis--medical or otherwise--without stooping down to "pot jokes"? My comment on their Facebook page was this:
Actually, why don't we do something crazy and treat a medical marijuana story seriously for a change? Find out the impact this fire has on the sick? See if there were any serious long-term effects on the fire-fighters? You know... "reporting"?

I listen to NPR because it takes my issues seriously. Well, most of them, apparently. Kinda sad, actually. It would have made for an interesting story...
Which I'm rather proud of in a restraint sort-of way, frankly. 600+ comments on this, and every lame joke in the book. I just don't get it.

I guess it's always easiest to joke about the things that make us nervous. But I guess my point is, why does this still make us nervous?

You can waltz into your doctor's office and ask for any number of really deadly and terribly addictive things to "help" a given condition. You learn of these "helpful" medications (and often the condition as well) through overt and laser-like-targeted advertising by pharmaceutical companies with revenues larger than a number of countries GNP's. These are medical compounds approved by the FDA whose side-effect list is long and ugly, and can cause great physical harm and ultimately death, even if used as prescribed. But you can walk in and most-likely get any of a number of them simply by asking your doctor. Not only that, but your first treatment course of any of a number of these medications is often free of charge because the prescribing physician will give you samples provided by a regularly-visiting representative of said pharmaceutical behemoth who leaves piles of the drugs in question at your doctor's clinic for expressly this purpose.

Once you've tried these wonder-drugs, you often find that they don't work well for you, so you need to stop using them. Often in the case of pan medication, you begin to feel worse than you did when you started the medication (because the medication in question blocked pain signals in the brain). At other times, you learn (often after the fact) that the medication had some theretofore unknown (to the manufacturer, and thereby the FDA) toxicity that has now permanently damaged your liver, kidneys or heart. Your consolation prize: At least you get to be part of a class-action suit. Sometimes, in the case of psychotropic medication, you may suddenly feel unhinged and disconnected. Your doctor assures you that that's perfectly normal, and gives you an anti-anxiety medication to help with that feeling. But the perturbation doesn't seem to go away, and it's now four months later.

And on.

And on.

And on...

Yes, I'm digressing a bit. Here's the nut:

I use medical cannabis.
I have for years. It helps me greatly.
I wish more people understood it better.
It has helped a number of close people in my life live with more functionality and less pain, and has helped me directly help a number of those people die with less suffering and more dignity.
I wish our government would wise up and allow legitimate scientific study of cannabis and cannabinoids.

Can cannabis be abused? Absolutely. Can it create a dependency? Again, yes. But in my opinion (and I say this as nothing less than a near- medical cannabis expert) the dangers of both cannabis abuse and dependency are vastly overstated by the government drug-war propaganda machine, and are vastly less dangerous than anything you can get from your doctor. Here's a simple list of facts:

Tobacco 435,0001
Poor Diet and Physical Inactivity 365,0001
Alcohol 85,000 1
Microbial Agents 75,0001
Toxic Agents 55,0001
Motor Vehicle Crashes 26,3471
Adverse Reactions to Prescription Drugs 32,0002
Suicide 30,6223
Incidents Involving Firearms 29,0001
Homicide 20,3084
Sexual Behaviors 20,0001
All Illicit Drug Use, Direct and Indirect 17,0001, 5
Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs Such As Aspirin 7,6006
Marijuana 07

So, we're talking about something that has no direct attributable deaths, and causes less physical harm than ASPIRIN. To frame this issue in a slightly different manner, let's look at something cheery, like fatalities.

Fatal doses are listed in science by a metric called the LD50, which represents the dosage at which 50% of the test subjects (read: "animals") die. Here are a few LD50's for a few famous (and infamous) compounds:
Como say wha? The average body mass of the average lab rat (The Norway rat or laboratory rat rattus norvegicus) is about 385g. You mean to tell me that a rat would have to consume 481.25g of pure THC (NOT cannabis itself, just the most famous active compound in the plant matter) in one concentrated dose in order to be close to the mean of lethality? That's 125% of it's own body mass! Now take into consideration that even if we take the most powerful cannabis you can get a hold of, with THC concentrations on the order of 20% THC (which is on the generous side of things, to say the least), that means the rat would have to consume 625% of its body weight in properly dried and cured cannabis bud plant matter to be close to death. Extrapolated further (and using the above math), for an average 170 lb human, that means that human would have to ingest 1062.5lbs in one sitting! That, my friends, is not only patently absurd, but it's medically, practically and physically impossible.

Look, what I'm saying is this: the hysteria surrounding cannabis needs to end. We are wasting precious time, money and resources fighting a war that need not be fought, let alone one that claims so many lives. The only deaths that have ever resulted from direct involvement with cannabis come from its prohibition and criminalization. Cannabis abuse is a real concern, but MUST be viewed in light of the facts and the cost/benefit ratio that can be studied, but we can't do that until legitimate unbiased science can study it! Our legal drugs cost our society more in pain, suffering, addiction and death than all cannabis consumption combined throughout the course of human history, yet we refuse to address these legitimate issues ON BOTH SIDES of the argument because we have been lead to believe that this simple plant somehow has a morality inherent to it. We treat cannabis like we treat sex; we like to giggle about it publicly, but we don't like to say good things about it openly, or even appear to have an opinion one way or the other.

We have rightly elevated the discussion of so many things in the past year or so, including gay marriage, AIDS, suicidal behavior of our veterans and a host of other topics. We must do so with regards to cannabis. It is an imperative to our country that we do so. If we cannot, or simply refuse to in order to make our lives easier by being able to go for the lay-up of a joke instead of saying something substantive, that is a very sad comment on many things, not the least of which is the character of our society and the collective intellect of both our nation, its leaders and our scientific community.