Chapter 10 – Public Writings: Legalize Drugs

Presentation to the Iowa Board of Pharmacy: Medical Marijuana Hearings.

Sept 2, 2009 Mason City, IA.

Dear Board Members,

My name is Bob Watson. I reside in rural Decorah. I am a disabled combat veteran. I was a radio operator with 2nd Battalion 5th Marines, a combat unit, in Vietnam 40 years ago. My disabilities are PTSD, the colloquial definition for me is too much combat before the age of 21 and plenty more after; and the cerebral form of p-falciparum malaria. This form of malaria destroys the insulation around synapses in the brain and allows short circuiting of electrical impulses which are a form of seizures. These disabilities are central to my testimony.

Since the 1960’s the literature abounds with studies about marijuana trying to prove its dangers, it helpful uses, and its chemical compounds. This has led to the understanding that many of the old, thousands of years old, uses for marijuana have a firm basis in science. Marijuana has been used to treat pain, convulsions, nausea, glaucoma, neuralgia, asthma, cramps, migraine, insomnia, and depression to name a few.

With the 1988 Allyn Howlett discovery of specific receptors for THC in the brain we begin to understand the ability of marijuana to affect humans. In 1992, Raphael Mechoulam, who originally discovered THC, discovered the brains own cannabinoid and he named it anadamide.

As Pollan tells us, “The cannabinoid receptors Howlett found showed up in vast numbers all over the brain (as well as in the immune and reproductive systems), though they were clustered in regions responsible for the mental processes that marijuana are known to alter: the cerebral cortex (the locus of higher-order thought), the hippocampus (memory), the basal ganglia (movement), and the amygdala (emotions). The one neurological address where cannabinoid receptors didn’t show up was in the brain stem, which regulates involuntary functions such as circulation and respiration. This might explain the remarkably low toxicity of cannabis and the fact that no one is known to have ever died from an overdose.

Howlett suggests that the purpose of this network might be various direct and indirect effects of cannabinoids: pain relief, loss of short-term memory, sedation, and mild cognitive impairment. She noted that cannabinoid receptors had been found in the uterus and speculated that anandamide may not only dull the pain of childbirth but help women forget it later. The sensation of pain is one of the hardest to summon from memory. Howlett speculated that the human cannabinoid system evolved to help us endure and selectively forget the routine slings and arrows of life so that we can get up in the morning and do it all over again. It is the brain’s own drug for coping with the human condition.” After my year in the rice paddies and mountains of Vietnam, there is much to forget.

Humans have a coevolution relation with marijuana, much like pollinators and flowers, which has had evolutionary advantages to both species. Which gets me back to PTSD and malaria.

As I stated previously, one of the effects of malaria is the creation of seizures. These seizures lead to a number of problems including debilitating anxiety attacks, rages, etc. Smoking marijuana dampens the seizures and works as an anti-convulscent. Marijuana has none of the side effects, or in fact unintended actions on the brain, that the normal pharmaceutical drugs used for this purpose have.

The central symptom of PTSD from the jungle war in Vietnam for veterans is hyper-alertness. Because hyper-alertness saved my life throughout that whole year, my brain won’t let me stop being hyper-alert. Hyper-alertness causes the brain to fill in voids with flashbacks, nightmares, and a perpetual state of alertness which can take on many forms of problematic behavior.

One tends to forget that not only did combat veterans hunt other humans; they were also hunted by other humans. This brings in a whole set of PTSD problems normally not thought of when thinking of combat veterans. Mine is not an easy life. I must always be aware of and manage my PTSD and malaria symptoms and try to separate them from what might be called normal life.

Smoking marijuana can reduce hyper-alertness. Reducing hyper-alertness can reduce the symptoms that combat veterans must live with. Smoking marijuana acts as an anti-convulscent thus relieving symptoms caused by seizures that veterans with cerebral malaria must live with. Smoking marijuana allows the veteran to selectively forget many of the horrible memories of combat.

When we have understood for the last 50 years the pharmacological reasons why marijuana works as it does on the human brain, when we have understood the positive cultural uses this plant has been used for for thousands of years by humans, when we understand that other states in this United States understand and legally allow those medical uses that marijuana has been shown to have, as a combat veteran who has spent the last 40 years dealing daily with the effects fighting for this county has had on my life, I find it morally reprehensible that a doctor at the VA, or any other doctor, is not allowed to write me a prescription for marijuana when that doctor knows that marijuana is the best medicine I could have for my combat related disabilities.

Do me, and the thousands of other veterans with PTSD and malarial disabilities, a favor: understand the real history this plant has had with humans, understand the positive medical outcomes this plant has shown, and recommend the use of medical marijuana in Iowa.    Thank you.

Drugs and the Supreme Court.  (11-16-87)

With Douglas Ginsburg’s withdrawal of his nomination to the Supreme Court, we Americans have lost a unique opportunity to deal honestly with two controversial issues.

With a sitting justice who smoked marijuana more or less regularly for 10 years we could have finally confronted the legal and moral prejudices that exist in this country against marijuana.  We could have attempted to decouple marijuana from dangerous drugs such as heroin or cocaine, and from crime.  Because of the ideological straitjacket worn by Reaganites, I’m afraid that opportunity will not now present itself.

The question of paternalistic laws in general could also have attained serious dialogue.  If teaching professors at one of the country’s most prestigious law schools routinely flout that class of laws designed only to protect us from ourselves, then maybe it is time we, as a society, reconsider the validity of that class of laws.  It might be we shouldn’t be allowed to proscribe individual behavior when such behavior affects only that individual.

It’s true I wouldn’t want someone of Ginsburg’s ideological bent to sit on the Supreme Court, but I am dismayed that the possible positive societal advances which might have been accomplished had he become a justice are not now likely to happen.