Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Medical Marijuana All Over Again: Ouch, that Hurts Man

Longtime readers may recall a commentary I did on medical marijuana called Marijuana Duck, Duck, Goose - Same Old Story that got picked up by Digg and all hell broke loose.

Well, I'm back with a story I snagged off Wired Science entitled A Little Marijuana Helps, but Lots May Hurt. Interesting. Can I get a summary?

Hey, you know how all those people like cancer chicks and MS guys who say that weed makes 'em feel better? Let's do a test on it! We'll take the active "it burns!" chemical from hot peppers (and, subsequently, pepper spray) - capsaicin - inject it under their skin, and get 'em high. Then we'll ask them if it hurts. Dude? Dude.

After 2 minutes, no one noticed any "It burns, oh, God it burns!" difference. After 45 minutes, those who had gotten "moderately" high said it hurt less. But those who got really high said it hurt more, even though they felt much "higher."

Honestly, I'm surprised this bar-closing brainstorm of an idea warranted any merit. Much of what we know about the benefits of marijuana is the relieving of chronic pain or reinstitution of appetite.
  • New Stimulus

    Shooting someone up with capsaicin is the physical equivalent of causing a hairline rib fracture. The problem with the way the experiment was handled was that it did not mimic one important aspect of the reason people - some of whom may never have smoked marijuana before - turn to using marijuana: unavoidable, chronic pain/nausea. The people in the study were completely healthy and introduced to a new stimulus - constant, burning pain. Then they smoked. If you're going to do a study to see if marijuana can "officially" help those with chronic pain, study people with chronic pain.

  • No External Stimulus

    In my limited medical, partial psychological, and extensive marijuana experience, the symptoms that are known to be highly successfully ameliorated - chronic pain and lack of appetite - have one thing in common that can only be visualized or recorded if you put stoned people in front of the television: distractive stimulus.

    In a word: stonervision. Get someone without an appetite stoned. Sit them in a comfortable chair and monitor them and ask them how stoned they feel and if they would like a cracker, they might feel uneasy and eat a cracker or two. Get that same person stoned, sit them in the same comfy chair, and flip on South Park Season 1 (play all), you don't even have to ask them; a subtly-placed bag of Nacho Cheese Bugles will simply disappear.
My point? Don't break someone's arm, get them stoned, and call it a study on marijuana and pain. You're studying the wrong things and getting people way too stoned and asking why they're fixating on the pain. The joy of marijuana (and, in my opinion, the success it holds for millions whether in pain or stressed) is its ability of purposeful fixation. Books, television, video games, and even new places are a release, an external stimulus that can give us joy, meaning, and even reward. Paired with marijuana, these things can "make it better" for millions of people who are too concerned with pain to enjoy anything else.

There are many more variables to consider; if you're going to test it, test it right.

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