There are many things that frustrate a greenie, despite our stereotypical image of the laid back, forgot-where-I-put-my-fucks hippie. Low stash levels, waiting on someone who can’t roll a blunt to try to roll a blunt (that someone in the room deems Instagram-worthy), and realizing that the four elements are a lie (it seems that they are actually fire, water, earth [aka dirt], and Lays chips) — those are a few of our least favorite things. Another is hearing yet another person deliver their obviously uninformed yet extremely confident statements against marijuana.
“I’m here to tell you, as a doctor, that despite all the talk about the medical benefits of marijuana, smoking the stuff is not going to do your health any good. And if you get high before climbing behind the wheel of a car, you will be putting yourself and those around you in danger.”
Dr. Sanjay Gupta on medical marijuana, TIME magazine, January 2009.
I’ve liked Sanjay Gupta since I was a kid — it didn’t take for him to say no to the position of Surgeon General for me to know his name. I always knew and respected him as one very, very intelligent man. So to be a greenie, it just pissed me off to read. But to be a greenie reading something one of her heroes wrote? NO. This cannot be happening.
Obviously he had never smoked the ganja as a younger man! I thought to myself weakly. For the record, I discovered today that this assumption was not true — he spoke briefly in an interview about smoking and experiencing all the side effects we like to not talk about, like increased anxiety and paranoia, and he said he found the experience mildly unappealing. Oh well, more for us!
For the past year I’ve waited patiently, impatiently, vocally, silently, upside down and backwards for his words on the issue after all this time which he dedicated to studying marijuana and its effects on people, both used as a medicinal drug and a recreational one.
I hoped that seeing real medical cases on a real and personal level, that could convince him like it did for me, right? I used to be the kid who was known for her support of the DARE program and nothing more. It seems there are more and more pro-mj people who weren’t born hitting the bong, but rather are converts…
“Well, I am here to apologize. I apologize because I didn’t look hard enough, until now. I didn’t look far enough. I didn’t review papers from smaller labs in other countries doing some remarkable research, and I was too dismissive of the loud chorus of legitimate patients whose symptoms improved on cannabis.”
– Dr. Sanjay Gupta, promo article (8/8/13) for “Weed,” (CNN, 8/11/13) documentary.
It’s an odd apology and sounds almost sarcastic, but after reading his materials and watching many interviews with Dr. Gupta, I see his view really has changed. In what I feel was a rather daring move on his part, he obviously decided he wanted to see the “unbiased” truth (even in my interview to join the HMJ team we talked about how truly unbiased information is so hard, if not impossible, to find)… To do that, he decided to make it as biased as possible — in both directions — and let viewers choose their side based on radical cases as well as the more familiar concepts behind them. I expected him to try to walk a tightrope between “FOR” and “AGAINST,” which is a lot like being a pilot in the Andes mountains.
For the emotionally susceptible, there were many clips of Charlotte Figi, a beautiful girl who is famous for her medical case: her Dravet Syndrome, a rare form of epilepsy that starts during infancy, was cured by a special strain of cannabis (in her honor it was named Charlotte’s Web; 21% CBD, >1% THC) bred by the Stanley brothers in their own “Garden of Eden.” These touching scenes were contrasted by…
References. References everywhere, to big names, and therefore, louder voices. These references were seemingly very much for another facet to the dramatic effect, but not on an emotional level. They were dramatic findings, but of science. Blame an overactive imagination, but to me it seemed like… Well, even though Sanjay Gupta is now publicly for legalization/decriminalization/regulation of marijuana, most of the ‘evidence’ in the scientific cuts of the documentary seemed to “support” claims that are the basis for many fabricated situations, myths, and lies that got the drug war rolling in the first place. Over and over doctors were quoted as saying there’s not enough evidence, that the evidence isn’t concrete enough, and even that this area of research is so difficult to fund under the US government that the evidence may be lurking, but unable to come to public awareness. Even with hope it’s a tease: you can study marijuana, sure, but if you find anything noteworthy, you’ll get arrested for tampering with it.
Slowly, every medical marijuana patient (or a family member speaking for them) that was interviewed spoke, often very emotionally, about the herb and how it influences their improvements and their quality of life as a whole. However, they weren’t number crunchers, these were your average neighbors dealt a bad hand — so to keep it interesting, they were emotional instead of educated on the matter.
The doctor’s opinion can repeatedly appear scattered while trying to keep up with this radical, bipolar presentation of the cannabis plant. “Weed” switches between a toddler with Dravet Syndrome and then statistics about kids in rehab recovering from “marijuana withdrawal.” One of the women speaking did chime in that the point of a rehabilitation centre is to give the patient a second chance by learning new behaviors, but one of the doctors — the man with the PhD — said in a creepy, smug kind of way that cannabis dependency/addiction and withdrawal can be physical, which is what we’ve argued all along. To me, the Sauron’s eye in this doctor’s theory is that all three “symptoms,” which he named as irritability, insomnia, and nausea, are all immeasurable except by patient feedback, and all three symptoms are symptoms that cannabis treats — minor as they may be — and could easily be the direct result of an underlying condition.
Over and over scenes like these are contrasted. A nursing home with a man sparking up in a tobacco pipe carved of gorgeous dark wood; they talk of his reports of help from PTSD, while the doctor explains that the man is a Holocaust survivor who has suffered night terrors since his wife passed away. At one point, Dr. Gupta is on a bench while the man is smoking from his pipe, and he meagerly but excitedly tries to speak in English, gaining courage as Dr. Gupta asked, “When you smoke?” and the man clarified, “You fly. You FLY!” Then, again, we’re hearing the story of a seven-months-clean-from-the-evil-ganja teenager and therapists from the facility at which he *recovered* from his addiction.
Not all of the talking was by grateful patients and snobby doctors — one of his most powerful statements was in a voiceover while skimming through clips from the first legal Cannabis Cup in Denver. One teenage girl was shown blowing smoke at the camera playfully as she giggled, and Dr. Gupta is heard saying, “For some, it [marijuana] is a lifestyle. For some, it is a lifeline,” and the camera cuts to a woman putting a beige patch on her skin with signs advertising medical marijuana.
Just when you start to wonder what that patch is, Charlotte’s story is back at attention, and one of the Stanley brothers begins to tear up. Dr. Gupta grins at him and asks, “It gets to you, doesn’t it?”
The brother replied, “If it doesn’t get to you, something’s… something’s wrong.”
Immediately after, Dr. Gupta begins naming skeptics. No arguments, just faceless corporate names.
I know I even sound scatterbrained right now, but… Dr. Gupta is convincing. He made ME even step back and consider, “Oh god, do I have a crippling addiction to marijuana?” before my inner bong hit (you know, that bong hit of happiness you keep safe in your heart in case of an emergency that requires weed?) punched me in the face and told me to get a grip.
Interestingly, the Stanley brothers’ Garden of Eden was not the only not-so-subtle secular reference to the religious: Dr. Sanjay Gupta actually visits the stoned peoples of Jerusalem (no, really, like stoned from chronic, not bleeding out). He visits a couple of different places… Honestly, I tuned out here, because I was starting to recognize the pattern: if it’s medical, it matters, but if it’s not medical, it doesn’t. Plus, I’d had enough English-teacher-style prying into the deeper meanings of the camera angles and the way different people were portrayed.
He ends, rather abruptly, by praising the Israeli government for aiding people who research the cannabis plant and its many benefits. He begins to ask about cancer killing qualities of cannabinoids and the finding that using the dankest of the dank after a head injury can totally make your mind feel like it’s melting, but really inside your cranium there’s a construction site where usually cells that aren’t stoned are chill, but they boycott actually fixing the problem. (If you’re reading this high, remember, brain cells are not circular — think more like octopuses with hard helmets and picket signs. You’re welcome.)
The sad thing to me, really, is that he had every ounce of power to dismiss cannabis myths and have people follow his view immediately — the almost-Surgeon-General and probably the most famous nonfiction doctor (one who’s still alive, no cheating!) known to man has more power than he seems to realize. With this power, he inadvertently did something: he said, in the kindest way he could, that if there’s not preexisting medical proof that you need this medication, you’ll probably end up in rehab or jail the way that users of morphine without a prescription can turn out to be. It’s slightly less likely, but it’ll probably still happen.
Obviously, a doctor would go into a self-guided study looking at the medical debate in particular — but even the scenes of people smoking pot, it looks like the way pot smokers are portrayed in Above the Influence commercials. A doctor, who specializes in addiction treatment, was very stressed and emotional as he said that the number of his patients coming in for marijuana dependency has tripled and that he recently thought deeply about it and brought himself to tears over how many patients he’ll lose to the evil gateway drug. He nearly sobbed as he said that some of his patients are people who have “dropped out of life.”
It was a fantastic documentary, and one worth the watch: I have about seven pages of notes, only a teaspoon of disappointment, and my boyfriend’s still got, I think, only four five-star marks from when he breathed and it wasn’t during a commercial break. But that teaspoon is a lot like the way a teaspoon of stardust would be… Heavy.
Why did Dr. Gupta paint a picture that only diagnosed patients deserve medical cannabis access and that in the cases where it exists as a cure, that it was the last resort? He had already clearly stated publicly on multiple occasions that he believes pharmaceutical drugs are significantly more dangerous for anyone to take. Not only that, I know some dickhead doctors who wouldn’t diagnose me with a head cold, so anything MMJ related is probably impossible for a lot of people from here on out — only about one or two out of every 500 doctors would be willing to prescribe medical marijuana for a patient anyway. He did choose to debunk some myths, like the concept that because you’re inhaling burning material, smoking pot is automatically as bad for your health as smoking cigarettes (he at no point said it’s safe to do, but has agreed in the past that it’s a lot safer than other drugs, again, especially pharmaceutical). Dr. Gupta even talked to a patient about vaporisers (and as a GotVape employee, I accidentally knocked my laptop off the bed when I saw a Volcano making a cameo!!), which thankfully shed a little light on the FAQ, “How is this better than smoking tobacco if you’re still smoking something?”
My biggest question: Maybe the doctor is playing ‘dumb’ per say, so as to not promise having political intentions in any direction — but then why would he write an article apologizing for having been against it years ago?It’s obvious that Dr. Gupta knows the truth now, so why didn’t he decide to bring to light the fact that years ago, prescription medications were named the “new” gateway drug, or even mention the campaign to get parents to pay attention to what they’re leaving out? Which, by the way, that campaign failed, of course — how many teenagers actually support Above the Influence, and how many parents want to admit they made any mistake with their child? – and so back to business everything went: images of teenagers who have seemingly never heard of shampoo are generally shown melting into a couch while life goes on around them. It echoes the doctor who talks of people who have “dropped out of life.” It seems like just about everybody is afraid to acknowledge the fact that if someone is lazy and unmotivated sober, they’ll likely be lazy and unmotivated while high as well… While new smokers get a courtesy pass the first few times, regular smokers definitely hold a responsibility in that they choose whether or not to be a motivated individual or to support that stereotype.
The worst part of it all? There is a Marijuana Potency Project that exists solely to test THC and CBD levels of different marijuana strains. Without naming it, the man from the facility showed Dr. Gupta the strongest strain they hold, which has a 36% THC potency. The concept exists that the word marijuana was designed to scare people by making them think cannabis was “Mexican loco weed” and to fear its exoticism, but frankly, that man’s accent rolling on the words “36% THC potency” was exotic but pretty seductive at the same time (come on, 36% in flower? Cool!!), until he started blabbering about how it’s soooo dangerous and it will essentially give you dementia upon skin contact. Okay, no, he never said that, but he did huff and explain impatiently that it is “very, very dangerous.” His accent got less attractive after that.
In conclusion, one of Forbes’ ten most influential people poured something acidic, beautiful, and possibly catastrophic on the politics of the power of the herb versus the pills. Stardust. Brilliant, but heavy. His biggest, and really only, failure here is that he wanted to get all views, so he gave a full axis’ spectrum of viewpoints, but he forgot that to get results that are even printable, they have to be at least two dimensional: he got every medical opinion he could shove into his time slot, completely ignoring that cannabis is no longer just a medical issue, but one of the law, law enforcement, financially-oriented, party-oriented… Everyone has been touched by the war on drugs, but thank goodness, not everyone has been touched by the war on our bodies. It seems that though Dr. Gupta now understands the need for armor, he doesn’t yet seem willing to let someone without a proper permit buy even a shield, much less a weapon, for self-defense against nature’s real bad guys.
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