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The ‘Light-Up Nation’ as world leader in medical marijuana technologies. Will scientific research on the effects of medicinal opiates lead to new findings in poppy fields?

The Economist recently reported that the ‘Light-Up Nation’ is poised to become the global leader in medical marijuana technologies, with 36 companies doing medical research on the health benefits of cannabis
A worker tends to cannabis plants at a growing facility for the Tikun Olam company near the northern Israeli city of Safed (Abir Sultan/Flash 90)
A worker tends to cannabis plants at a growing facility for the Tikun Olam company near the northern Israeli city of Safed (Abir Sultan/Flash 90)

The publication The Economist recently reported that the ‘Light-Up Nation’ is poised to become the global leader in medical marijuana technologies, with 36 companies doing medical research on the health benefits of cannabis.

Israeli innovation website NoCamels reports that Israeli farmers look forward to exporting hundreds of millions of dollars in medical marijuana every year. According to the report, Israel is some 60 year’s ahead of the United States as a result of Washington’s repressive anti-drug policies.

The War on Drugs has been so repressive that a black man arrested three times for selling marijuana in Missouri received a lifelong sentence without parole in 1993. He is only one of the many hundreds of thousands of victims of pointless laws.

Media coverage of drugs today little better than in the days of Reefer Madness

While many laugh at anti-drug propaganda, such as the 1930s movie Reefer Madness, today’s media coverage of other ‘dangerous drugs’ is no less preposterous.

For instance, most people consider heroin a killer drug in spite of the fact that there is overwhelming scientific evidence that the daily consumption of cigarettes, alcohol and sugary beverages is far more dangerous than a maintenance dose of opiates. Nearly all – if not all – deaths related to ‘opiate abuse’ are the result of secondary causes: overdose, or the drug being cut with dangerous substances. It has long been known that heroin and other opiates do not damage bodily organs.

Why is the War on Drugs so ridiculous? Because we tend to believe what we have learned our entire lives. There is also the small issue of hundreds of billions of dollars a year in profits and an anti-drugs war (along with treatment facilities) which in the US alone costs some 50 billion dollars annually.

The intention of financed studies is to prove the financed message

Studies are financed by anti-drug campaigns whose stated goal is to prove that drugs are dangerous and that society should be warned about this. Health issues (some 50 percent of addicts have medical problems, often caused by an endorphin shortage and the other half are addicted due to traumas) are often ignored. Information concerning possible medical benefits remains in the taboo sphere.

Although opium has been smoked for thousands of years, heroin was first synthesized in the 19th century and methadone has been used for more than half a century there is not a shred of evidence to demonstrate that opiates cause damage to organs. However reality has never been perceived as an obstacle when it comes to the War on Drugs.

New scientific and ethical study demonstrates desired result

A Norwegian study conducted in 2011 is often cited as evidence demonstrating the negative effects of methadone maintenance. According to the study: Methadone has been used to treat heroin addicts for nearly 50 years. Yet we have surprisingly incomplete knowledge about possible harmful effects from prolonged use. In general, opioids such as heroin and morphine are known to weaken intellectual functions such as learning, memory and attention. It is therefore tempting to assume that methadone has similar effects, says researcher Jannike M. Andersen at the NIPH’s Division of Forensic Toxicology and Drug Abuse. For ethical reasons, methadone cannot be tested in long-term studies of healthy volunteers.

This supposedly objective study uses terms such as “are known” without offering evidence to demonstrate what is supposedly known. “Tempting to assume” is not an objective basis. While living in Amsterdam I met a number of people who had consumed maintenance doses of opiates for up to 50 years (including a Holocaust survivor). I was surprised that they were often physically and intellectually healthier than people of a similar age who never drank or used drugs. Perhaps it is “well known” why such people are never included in these kinds of studies.

Stoned rats have shortened memory spans

This ‘scientific report’ continues with the headline New study of methadone:

“In the study, Andersen and colleagues treated rats daily with methadone for three weeks and studied the rats’ attention. The researchers measured how long the rats examined a new object introduced into their cage. The results show that the treatment clearly reduced the attention of the animals. This was true both when the rats had methadone in the body and, more importantly – a day after the last treatment, when the methadone had been excreted. The fact that the attention is impaired even after the drug was no longer present in the body suggests that methadone causes changes in brain cells. We do not yet know exactly what the changes are and how long-lasting they will be says Andersen.

That the preceding study is considered serious scientific research is comical (it would have taken the rats a considerable period before they got used to the opiate – which means they would have been stoned out of their minds – so the chance was 100% that their attention span would have been reduced during the study). Even more comical is that this and similar studies are the basis of both governmental and international policies pertaining to drugs.

Due to repressive policies studies in the field of medicinal opiates are in their infancy. Research into the medicinal influence of poppies could be a welcome and interesting new frontier.

About the Author
Asaf Shimoni is an author, journalist and translator who returned to Israel in 2016 after spending 40 years abroad, most of them in the Netherlands. He grew up near Boston, made aliyah while living on a kibbutz (from 1973 to 1976), and graduated from Syracuse University in 1978. He also lived some 5 years in Sicily. He believes that the media should be as critical and truthful as possible.
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