August 8, 2013
Sanjay Gupta Apologizes For Stance On Medical Marijuana
Brett Smith for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
CNN's chief medical correspondent Sanjay Gupta said on Wednesday night that he wanted to "apologize" for misleading the public with respect to medical marijuana.
"I apologize because I didn't look hard enough, until now," Gupta wrote in a CNN blog article that was published the next day. "I didn't look far enough. I didn't review papers from smaller labs in other countries doing some remarkable research, and I was too dismissive of the loud chorus of legitimate patients whose symptoms improved on cannabis."
Gupta's remarks came just ahead of the upcoming CNN documentary 'Weed' that he has been working on for the past year.
Both in his remarks on Wednesday night to Piers Morgan and in his blog, the cable news medical pundit took aim at perceptions of the popular drug, including the notion that marijuana, declared a 'schedule 1' drug by the DEA, is highly addictive.
"We now know that while estimates vary, marijuana leads to dependence in around 9 to 10 percent of its adult users," Gupta wrote. "By comparison, cocaine, a schedule 2 substance 'with less abuse potential than schedule 1 drugs' hooks 20 percent of those who use it. Around 25 percent of heroin users become addicted."
"The worst is tobacco, where the number is closer to 30 percent of smokers, many of whom go on to die because of their addiction," he added.
Gupta also discussed a culture shared by many institutions that dismisses marijuana as a problem in need of heavy regulation. He suggested that even researchers appear to approach the subject with some preconceived bias.
"In my quick running of the numbers, I calculated about 6 percent of the current US marijuana studies investigate the benefits of medical marijuana," he said. "The rest are designed to investigate harm. That imbalance paints a highly distorted picture."
The doctor went on to say researchers who do want to investigate marijuana must cut through layers of red tape. One of the first major problems is simply obtaining a sample, which must be taken from a special growing facility.
"The second thing you need is approval, and the scientists I interviewed kept reminding me how tedious that can be," he wrote. "While a cancer study may first be evaluated by the National Cancer Institute, or a pain study may go through the National Institute for Neurological Disorders, there is one more approval required for marijuana: NIDA, the National Institute on Drug Abuse. It is an organization that has a core mission of studying drug abuse, as opposed to benefit."
Gupta also compared the use of medical marijuana to treat pain against using highly-addictive painkillers like morphine and oxycodone, drugs that are often involved in an overdose situation.
"Most frightening to me is that someone dies in the United States every 19 minutes from a prescription drug overdose, mostly accidental," he wrote. "Every 19 minutes. It is a horrifying statistic. As much as I searched, I could not find a documented case of death from marijuana overdose."
The doctor did not advocate any specific policy, either on television or in the CNN blog. He only admitted to being "especially intrigued" about ongoing studies in Spain and Israel that are looking into the potential benefits of marijuana.