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September 17, 2005

Dr. O'Connell's Statement to Medical Board of California

Although, cannabis had been widely used as an herbal palliative in Western
Medicine for nearly a century, all prescriptive use was abruptly ended by
passage of the Marijuana Tax Act in 1937. Thus, whatever evidence
persuaded California voters to pass Proposition 215 in 1996
must have been provided by individuals engaging in what was then-- of necessity--
illegal self-medication during the late Eighties and early Nineties.
In fact, the disclosure of those illegal experiments by Doblin and Kleiman
in the peer-reviewed medical literature in 1991 had called attention to the
phenomenon and also provided some initial impetus for what eventually became
a successful initiative.

After I began screening cannabis applicants in late 2001, the discovery that
nearly all were already chronic users who had originally tried it during
adolescence-- at about the same time most had also tried alcohol and tobacco--
led me to develop a structured interview aimed at a better understanding
of that same self-medication phenomenon. Over three thousand such encounters
have now been recorded and enough data from over 1200 structured interviews
has been analyzed to permit the admittedly startling conclusions I will share
with you this morning:

1) Demographic data amply confirm that a vigorous illegal "marijuana" market
didn't begin until cannabis was first made available to large numbers of
adolescents and young adults during the 'hippie' phenomenon of the late Sixties.

2) The subsequent sustained growth of that illegal market, although difficult
to measure precisely, is widely acknowledged. Those same applicant demographics
also suggest that the continued growth has resulted from chronic use by an
unknown fraction of the teen initiates faithfully tracked by annual federal
surveys since 1975.

3) The striking temporal association between initiation of cannabis on the
one hand, and tobacco and alcohol on the other, first noted by researchers
in the early Seventies was confirmed; however, the "sequence" they also noted
in which cannabis was usually the third agent tried no longer obtains. All
three are now tried at similar ages-- and in random order.

4) Those findings, together with an almost universal acknowledgment of similar
emotional symptoms, suggests that rather than acting as a "gateway" to other
drugs, cannabis has, since the late Sixties, become a third agent tried unwittingly
along with alcohol and tobacco by troubled adolescents-- and for similar
emotional symptoms.

In other words, what the three agents have in common is an ability to treat
symptoms of adolescent angst and dysphoria; and thus function as self-medications.

5) That interpretation is further supported by several other findings developed
by systematic inquiries into their family and school experiences- plus their
initiations of a menu other illegal drugs- including both psychedelics and
"street" drugs.

6) There is also startling-- yet conclusive-- evidence that once they had
settled on cannabis as their self-medication of choice, this population then
dramatically diminished its consumption of both alcohol and tobacco in sustained
fashion. Federal statistics gathered since 1970 also show a gradual parallel
decrease in the consumption of both-- plus some related improvements in health

7) The bottom line seems to be that in addition to its better-known ability
to relieve several somatic symptoms, cannabis has also been a beneficial
psychotropic medication for many of its chronic users since their adolescence.

This unique clinical evidence also suggests that cannabis was a benign and
safe anxiolytic/antidepressant long before any pharmaceutical agents were
even available for those purposes-- and that it still outperforms most of
them in both efficacy and safety.

This evidence further suggests that current attitudes toward cannabis are
not only profoundly mistaken; but that continued aggressive prohibition inflicts
great damage on both individuals and society.

My primary reason for sharing this information with you at this early phase
is precisely because it is so radically at odds with both official policy
and popular beliefs; a collateral reason is to point out that gathering such
data wasn't even possible until 215 was passed.

Finally, because the 'medical marijuana' laws passed by other states have
been so restrictive, the acquisition of such data has only been possible
in California.

A more detailed account of these findings is available at:


Dr. Tom O'Connell

Posted by tjeffo at September 17, 2005 05:43 AM


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