Marijuana as wonder drug

March 3, 2007

From the Boston Globe:

A NEW STUDY in the journal Neurology is being hailed as unassailable proof that marijuana is a valuable medicine. It is a sad commentary on the state of modern medicine — and US drug policy — that we still need “proof” of something that medicine has known for 5,000 years.

The study, from the University of California at San Francisco, found smoked marijuana to be effective at relieving the extreme pain of a debilitating condition known as peripheral neuropathy. It was a study of HIV patients, but a similar type of pain caused by damage to nerves afflicts people with many other illnesses including diabetes and multiple sclerosis. Neuropathic pain is notoriously resistant to treatment with conventional pain drugs. Even powerful and addictive narcotics like morphine and OxyContin often provide little relief. This study leaves no doubt that marijuana can safely ease this type of pain.

As all marijuana research in the United States must be, the new study was conducted with government-supplied marijuana of notoriously poor quality. So it probably underestimated the potential benefit.

I have always found the ban on using marijuana for medical purposes ridiculous. I’m studying for a doctorate degree in medicine, and when I get there no so-called “moralist” or conservative politician is going to tell me that I can’t give a patient something I my training and the scientific evidence tell me that is the way to go.

With marijuana it is especially a problem, because anyone can grow it. You don’t have to buy it (well, at least initially from somebody!) and growing the plant is like growing any other plant. I have always believed that there is something else to it:

The pharmaceutical industry is scrambling to isolate cannabinoids and synthesize analogs, and to package them in non-smokable forms. In time, companies will almost certainly come up with products and delivery systems that are more useful and less expensive than herbal marijuana. However, the analogs they have produced so far are more expensive than herbal marijuana, and none has shown any improvement over the plant nature gave us to take orally or to smoke.

We live in an antismoking environment. But as a method of delivering certain medicinal compounds, smoking marijuana has some real advantages: The effect is almost instantaneous, allowing the patient, who after all is the best judge, to fine-tune his or her dose to get the needed relief without intoxication. Smoked marijuana has never been demonstrated to have serious pulmonary consequences, but in any case the technology to inhale these cannabinoids without smoking marijuana already exists as vaporizers that allow for smoke-free inhalation.

Be sure to read the rest of the article here. By the way, the piece was written by Lester Grinspoon, an emeritus professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, certainly not some ignorant hippie:

Hopefully the UCSF study will add to the pressure on the US government to rethink its irrational ban on the medicinal use of marijuana — and its destructive attacks on patients and caregivers in states that have chosen to allow such use. Rather than admit they have been mistaken all these years, federal officials can cite “important new data” and start revamping outdated and destructive policies. The new Congress could go far in establishing its bona fides as both reasonable and compassionate by immediately moving on this issue.

Such legislation would bring much-needed relief to millions of Americans suffering from cancer, AIDS, multiple sclerosis, arthritis, and other debilitating illnesses.

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Hi-Tech Healthcare in Iraq, Minus the Healthcare

January 11, 2007

The Rationalization of Healthcare in Iraq

This article is a great read, and it comes courtesy of Corp Watch. I love the specials these guys publish. Last year, on October to be precise, they broke the story about how the Kuwait contractor than is building the U.S. embassy in Iraq is smuggling low-paid South Asians into Iraq – slave labor basically – to save themselves a few bucks, with the U.S. State Department turning a blind eye, which is ironic to say the least because they publish a yearly “Trafficking in Persons” report.

Now, they have a special on Iraq’s broken healthcare system. It’s quite long, with plenty of interviews, stories and excellent sourcing, and while its main focus is corruption, they do cover most of the basics, like how non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are trying to operate in Iraq, and how all of the promised hospitals – including the Basra Children’s Hospital, which was highly touted by Laura Bush and Condi Rice – are not being completed, or not being built at all.

Of course, Iraq is a land of opportunity, if you are a war profiteer big-name contractor. Take the above mentioned Basra Children’s Hospital. According to CorpWatch:

(all emphasis is mine)

Cancer Hospital Remains Unfinished

Most prominent among the long list of failures is the Basra Children’s Hospital, which was intended as crown jewel of U.S. aid to Iraq. Instead, it has become a showcase for everything that went wrong. In August 2004, USAID awarded the $50 million contract to build the Hospital to Bechtel, a San Francisco-based engineering company, one of the largest engineering companies in the world, which has become synonymous with the building of nuclear power plants, gold mines and large projects like the new Hong Kong airport.

The idea was to create a state-of-the-art facility to treat childhood cancer, a pressing need in a city where cancer rates have skyrocketed following the first Gulf War. (Contested data link the rise in cancer to extensive U.S. use of depleted uranium weaponry in the region.)

The facility, championed by the First Lady Laura Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, looked suspiciously like a political propaganda effort. And as with much U.S. aid, it was designed with little local consultation: the city lacked clean water and already has a leukemia ward where lack of funding means that each bed is shared by two or three children.

The hospital was planned by Project Hope, a charity headed by John P. Howe III, president of the University of Texas, San Antonio, and a Bush family friend. Project Hope had built similar hospitals in Poland and in China. Howe pushed the project after Rice and Bush invited him to visit Iraq to assess the country’s healthcare system.

Before construction began in August 2005, the project attracted skeptics, who were concerned that it was a white elephant. Republican Congressman Jim Kolbe criticized the project: “Why build a hospital for kids, when the kids have no clean water?” the Arizonan asked. But it went ahead: No new technology would be spared in this showcase facility featuring with 94 beds, private cancer suites, CAT scans, a linear particle accelerator for radiation therapy, no.

But like every so many U.S.-initiated projects, the money to build this fancy facility would disappear when things went wrong. A year after the August 2005 groundbreaking, the project became a target for attacks, according to the company. The price tag rose from $50 million to an estimated $169.5 million. Cliff Mumm, president of the Bechtel infrastructure division, predicted that the project would fail. “It is not a good use of the government’s money” to try to finish the project,” Mumm told the New York Times. “And we do not think it can be finished.”

In July 2006, Bechtel was asked to withdrew from the project, which is now on hold. USAID spokesman David Snider’s cheerful spin on the stall was that the contract did not actually require the company to complete the hospital. “They are under a ‘term contract,’ which means their job is over when their money ends … (so) they did complete the contract.”

So Bechtel got to keep the money – U.S. taxpayer’s money – and the hospital is “on hold”. Because corporate profits are way more important than sick children.

Lets take another contractor: Parsons Global, a Pasadena, California-based engineering company.

The convoy of flat-bed trucks picked up its cargo at Baghdad International Airport last spring and sped north-west, stacked-high with crates of expensive medical equipment. From bilirubinmeters and hematology analyzers to infant incubators and dental appliances, the equipment had been ordered to help Iraq shore up a disintegrating health care system. But instead of being delivered to 150 brand-new Primary Health Care centers (PHCs) as originally planned, the Eagle Global Logistics vehicles were directed to drop them off at a storage warehouse in Abu Ghraib.

Not only did some of the equipment arrive damaged at the warehouse owned by PWC of Kuwait, one in 14 crates was missing, according to the delivery documents. The shipment was fairly typical: Military auditors would later calculate that roughly 46 percent of some $70 million in medical equipment deliveries made to the Abu Ghraib warehouse last spring had missing or damaged crates or contained boxes that were mislabeled or not labeled at all.

Not that it really mattered. Just over three weeks before the April 27th delivery, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had canceled the construction of 130 of the 150 PHCs for which the materiel was intended. As a result, the equipment that could help diagnose and treat Iraqi illness (and escalating bomb or gun injuries) now sits idle waiting for someone to figure out what to do with it.

[…]But if Iraqis have failed to benefit from the idle PHCs, the $70 million contract to supply them has been a shot in the arm for Parsons Global. The Pasadena, California-based engineering company reaped a $3.3 million profit according to an audit report issued by the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR), an independent U.S. government agency. And that is in addition to the $186 million that U.S. taxpayers shelled out to Parsons to build dozens of clinics that have yet to dispense a single aspirin.

Again, go read the entire article here. There is much to discuss, so feel free to comment away. Is it any wonder why Iraqis want us out of Iraq?


Down screening for all pregnant women

January 1, 2007

Well this should already be in place, don’t you think?

There’s a big change coming for pregnant women: Down syndrome testing no longer hinges on age 35.

This week, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists begins recommending that every pregnant woman, regardless of age, be offered a choice of tests for this common birth defect.

The main reason: Tests far less invasive than the long-used amniocentesis are now widely available, some that can tell in the first trimester the risk of a fetus having Down syndrome or other chromosomal defects.

[…]The new guideline is published in the January issue of the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology.

Now we just need to do this with HIV/AIDS as well, and implement it worldwide now that we are at it.