COLUMBIA — Cannabis might cure cancer.
At least that was one of the major themes of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws' state conference Saturday afternoon.
Six speakers and a panel of six cannabis patients discussed the benefits that marijuana can have on health, and even its benefits within the fields of building construction.The conference was held in Allen Auditorium in the Arts & Sciences Building at MU and discussed current drug laws, as well as possible future laws.
Fred Raines, professor emeritus of economics at Washington University in St. Louis, spoke about the economic side of medicinal marijuana.
Marijuana, he said, can help fight the six most expensive cancers — breast, colon, lung, lymphoma, prostate and leukemia — and is less expensive than current treatments. Raines also said that medicinal marijuana could help the economy by increasing the life expectancy of cancer patients, and therefore, in turn, the years many individuals would then be able to work. Raines also discussed the way marijuana could help lower the cost of other medicines.
"Marijuana can replace some of the prescriptions available," he said. "We have the potential of a treatment that can be produced at a very low cost, which can save us $100 billion."
Dr. David Huddlestonsmith, who said he was a doctor in California for 30 years, also spoke as a panelist over the medical benefits of the drug.
He said that in the 14 states where medical cannabis is legal, it is usually prescribed for alleviating symptoms of cancer, including chronic and acute pain, nausea and vomiting, weight loss and anxiety.
However, he said that of all of the studies done on the medical benefits of the drug, only about 20 were actually done on humans because of the legal status of the drug.
Huddlestonsmith said researchers, mostly in Europe, are finding other uses for cannabis, including:
- Reducing the size of brain tumors by inhibiting the tumor's blood vessel growth.
- Stopping the plaque that causes Alzheimer's disease from growing.
- Regenerating brain cells in rats.
- Decreasing inflammation in blood vessels, leading to a reduced number of heart attacks and strokes.
- Reducing pain from arthritis.
The talk also included a panel of six cannabis patients. Patients suffering from fibromyalgia, Crohn's disease, rheumatoid arthritis, scoliosis, cerebral palsy and spasticity shared their experience with the drug and how it has helped their symptoms.
The panelists said marijuana reduced their pains, increased their appetites and helped them sleep. The leader of the panel, Mark Pederson, who suffers from fibromyalgia said that legalization of medical marijuana is important because "it's about quality of life."
Eapen Thampy from Americans for Forfeiture Reform and John Coffman, a lobbyist for the American Civil Liberties Union, both talked about laws surrounding the war on drugs.
Thampy was concerned about forfeiture laws, which regulate when and how police and federal agents can seize personal property, and what happens to the property after the seizure. In Missouri, he said, all money made from the seizure or the selling of the property is supposed to go to the school system.
However, Thampy said, "the directive behind all the federal forfeiture laws is to fund the war on drugs."
Records obtained through the Missouri Sunshine Law, he said, showed that some of the seized money, roughly $60 million to $80 million for the combined fiscal years of 2008 and 2009, actually goes back to law enforcement, which could explain the increase in SWAT raids of places allegedly housing drugs.
Coffman spoke via phone on possible future laws that may enter the Missouri legislature or U.S. Congress. Coffman was worried about DWI and DUI laws and mandatory drug tests for certain people, specifically pregnant women.
University of Missouri Professor Leonard Hearne spoke about other uses for hemp, especially in construction. He said that:
- Bast fiber from the outer layer of the plant is one of the strongest natural fibers and is sometimes used in fabric.
- Hurd fibers from the inner stalks of the plants have similar qualities to wood and can be used to make paper.
- When mixed with certain chemicals, the two fibers can be used to make bricks, mortar and insulation for buildings and would reduce the need for steel in construction.
Angela Bacca, a member of California Green Aid and a proponent of that state's failed Proposition 19, energized the crowd of a few dozen with a speech about how Missouri could be a country leader in legalizing marijuana, not just for medical use but also for recreational use.
"Marijuana is not only a medicine," Bacca said, "but also a personal liberty."
The legalization of all marijuana, she said, would lower the cost of medicinal marijuana.