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Welcome, medical contents search May 10, 2013
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David Herrick used to bust tokers. Now he is one.
by Andrea Kowalski


When the former San Bernardino, California County sheriff's deputy was run over and crushed by his patrol car 12 years ago, Herrick's professional relationship with marijuana suddenly became very personal.

The accident crunched several disks in his lower back and the ex-narcotics officer turned to marijuana for relief of his pain. "There were days when I would just lay in one position and wish that I were dead," Herrick said.

Marijuana is the dried greenish-brown or gray mixture of leaves, seeds, stems and flowers of the hemp plant, Cannabis sativa. Of more than 400 chemicals in marijuana, the most mind-altering is delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC. Researchers have discovered that specific areas of the brain and spinal cord have many THC receptors, as well as the spleen and lymph tissue.

Marijuana can be ingested in many ways, smoking being the most popular method. Following inhalation, the marijuana is rapidly absorbed by the lung and into the blood where it attaches to THC receptors in the brain. The plant's effect on the user depends on the strength or potency of the THC.

THC stimulates the release of Dopamine, a neurotransmitter in the brain associated with the feeling of pleasurable sensations, or being "high."

Marijuana has been used for thousands of years in many cultures for medicinal purposes Conditions treated with the plant have included headaches, depression, anxiety, anorexia, asthma and pain. In recent years, marijuana in the form of a FDA-approved pill, Marinol, or Nabilone, has been used to stimulate appetite and reduce the nausea associated with cancer and chemotherapy.

However, a recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association revealed that long-term users of the drug performed significantly less well on tests of memory and attention than non-users and shorter-term users.

The bottom line, critics say, is that the plant provides more harm than benefit to consumers.

"There's no proof that marijuana has any influence on pain," said Dr. Gabriel Nahas, New York University School of Medicine professor and author of Marihuana and Medicine. "People claim it relieves them, but it's not true - they remember feeling good when they took it in the past and it becomes somewhat of a placebo.

" Even though the plant may provide a placebo effect, Nahas claims marijuana is not nearly as innocent as the public may perceive it to be.

According to Nahas, the drug can weaken an immune system already compromised by diseases, including HIV and others. "Marijuana can be damaging to the germ cells of man and the immunity cells," he said. "There is massive evidence indicating there are certain conditions when it should not be used."

Herrick, who has worked as a medical marijuana activist throughout California, disagrees with the narcotic's naysayers. "I don't see how providing cannabis to a terminally ill cancer patient is going to make that much of a difference, and it's going to allow him to die with dignity," said Herrick.

As part of the now-defunct Orange County Cannabis Co-Op, Herrick helped to provide the drug to hundreds of patients with illnesses ranging from depression to cancer and advanced cases of AIDS. "I've seen it control the nausea, increase the appetite and reduce the pain," he said.

University of Iowa professor Robert Block, PhD, has done his own research on the adverse side effects of marijuana. As far back as 1993, Block discovered cognitive impairments from daily marijuana users who ingested the drug for at least two years, he said.

When it comes to medical use, however, Block's research hasn't turned him off to the plant's possibilities. "Most drugs that people take have some side effects - it's a matter of balancing the negative effects with the therapeutic effects," he said.

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