Miscellaneous Ramblings

Medical Marijuana: Yes, There's an App for That

Charles Moore - 2009.07.23 - Tip Jar

Apple has approved the imaginatively named Cannabis, a new $1.99 iPhone/iPod touch application by Los Angeles-based Activists Justifying the Natural Agriculture of Ganja (AJNAG), which operates the AJNAG.com website and iMedicalCannabis.org database.

The Cannabis iPhone appCannabis is designed to help legal marijuana users quickly locate the nearest medical Cannabis collectives, cooperatives, doctors, clinics, attorneys, organizations, and other patient services in the thirteen states that have passed medical marijuana (Cannabis) legislation: Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington. (California, Colorado, New Mexico, and Rhode Island are currently the only states authorizing "dispensaries" to sell medical Cannabis.)

Seven other US states - Illinois, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York and North Carolina - are currently considering medical marijuana bills in their state legislatures, and South Dakota is reviewing several petitions in interest of medical marijuana legalization.

Cannabis the iPhone app has a map-style interface that displays medical marijuana resources where legal as well as "coffee shops" in places outside the US, such as Amsterdam, the Netherlands, where Cannabis can be legally used.

For every "Cannabis" purchase, AJNAG.com will donate 50¢ to a non-profit Cannabis reform fund, which will be set up once the application reaches 1000 subscriptions. The non-profit organization will unite with the many Cannabis organizations to raise money for grassroots media campaigning. The company's mission is to put the power of Cannabis change in your pocket while you enjoy "the most sticky and potent iPhone application available."

The Cannabis iPhone app Cannabis Features

  • Locate Medical Cannabis Collectives and Cooperatives
  • Locate Doctors and Clinics
  • Locate Attorneys and Organizations
  • Search by City
  • Search by Zip
  • Bookmark Listings
  • Add Listings to Contacts
  • Lookup Addresses, Phone Numbers, and websites for a 1000+ listings
  • Directory is Tended by Patient ID Center

Cannabis is compatible with both iPhone and iPod touch, and requires iPhone OS 3.0 or later.

Another medical marijuana app available from the App Store is Onaga Design'sCalifornian Herbal Caregivers (CHC) app, which sells for 99¢ and lists more than 700 medical marijuana sources in California.


Note: Most of the remainder of this column is a political-sociological rant, so if you're not interested in reading that sort of thing on a computer-related website, time to click along to other content. cm

"There's nothing worse than being a qualified patient with a physician's recommendation to consume Cannabis - commonly referred to as marijuana," AJNAG says on its website. "You never know where to find Cannabis resources near you. Sure, you could search the Web, but that's as tedious as flipping through the phone book or browsing through the advertisements in the latest Cannabis publication."

I couldn't agree more. I've never been a marijuana user for any reason since two or three (literally) furtive experiments with the stuff as a teenager 40-odd years ago. I didn't particularly like the effect and demurred further recreational use even during periods of my late teens and 20s when I estimate that as many as half to three-quarters of my associates and co-workers were regular pot-smokers.

Rethinking Medical Marijuana

However, the political issues surrounding medical marijuana and my own battles with fibromyalgia, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, and myofascial pain syndrome - which are unhappily getting worse and have become significantly debilitating - have caused me to reassess the issue of medical pot. So have experiences of some friends, like one who has really bad Multiple Sclerosis (MS), and who, after being licensed by Health Canada to legally use marijuana, was able to cut her morphine medication by half. Or a friend who was able to get off and stay off brain-fog inducing tricyclic antidepressants and addictive benzodiazepines by smoking weed instead - in her case unlicensed - allowing her to be high-functioning and productive rather than blitzed-out by the legal prescription drugs.

Smoking pot is still not an attractive option for me, since I have respiratory issues and allergies that make smoke of any sort problematical, but conventional painkillers, including NSAIDS like ASA, Ibuprofen, and Celebrex, Acetaminophen (Tylenol), and codeine, barely take the edge off my fibromyalgia and neuritis pain. Benzodiazepines (e.g.: Klonopin) help a bit but are extremely habituating/addictive.

Cannabinolids are one of the few known agents that are effective against neuropathic pain, and they are beneficial to gastrointestinal issues as well. I would be delighted if standardized-dosage oral delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) - the medically active agent in pot smoke - painkillers were available by prescription at a reasonable price.

Marijuana Laws

Sativex, a drug containing the cannabinoids tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), has been approved by Health Canada, but only for adults with multiple sclerosis (MS) and moderate-to-severe pain in advanced cancer, when the highest doses of other pain relievers don't provide adequate pain relief. And my doctor at the pain clinic says it's absurdly expensive anyway - some Can$9,500 per year. Being self-employed I don't have a drug plan, and Canadian medicare doesn't cover pharmaceuticals.

Sativex has received permission from the FDA to enter directly into late stage Phase III trials in the US. The first large scale US trial, Spray Trial, for cancer patients is underway and due to complete at the end of 2009.

Frankly, after researching the issue fairly extensively for years, I've concluded that medical marijuana laws in both Canada and the US can only be regarded by thinking persons as perversely hysterical, bordering on psychotic. It's bizarre. My GP can prescribe really addictive, dangerous stuff like Vicodin and Oxycodone but is not licensed to prescribe medical marijuana, although he says he would like to be. By licensing Sativex, Health Canada concedes that Cannabis is a potent pain-killer, but perversely is authorized only for patients suffering from advanced - likely terminal - illnesses, and only then after having exhausted the potential of opioids, which, unlike Cannabis, are narcotic, highly addictive, and have a variety of other nasty side-effects.

Demand and Supply

In Canada, the medical marijuana supply situation is particularly Kafkaseque, with the federal government recently having grudgingly responded to a January 2008 Federal Court ruling striking down the former arbitrary limit of one licensed patient per medical marijuana producer as a violation of the constitutional Charter of Rights and Freedoms by cynically increasing the number of medical marijuana users a licensed grower may supply to two - a calculated slap in the face to medical marijuana patients suffering from painful, debilitating illnesses whose symptoms can be relieved by therapeutic use of marijuana.

"From one to two patients, that's just insane," Eric Nash, a licensed Vancouver Island supplier under the Marijuana Medical Access Regulations told the Canadian Press. I couldn't agree more. The whole obstructive, punitive policy structure regulating medical marijuana use in Canada is utterly insane, not to mention inhumane. Mr. Nash notes that he's had several hundred requests for help from approved marijuana users, but he is legally prevented from supplying them.

In his 2008 decision, Federal Court of Appeal judge Barry Strayer reportedly pointed out that the government's own statistics show the one patient per producer limit forces thousands of licensed medical marijuana users to buy weed illegally, either on the street or through "compassion clubs", which he deemed a violation of constitutional rights.

One of the few top-tier elected officials on either side of the US/Canada border who has spoken with reason on the medical marijuana issue, former Nova Scotia premier John Hamm, who is perhaps not-coincidentally a medical doctor, said marijuana should not be regulated differently than pain-killing medications such as morphine or dilaudid. "If it has medical benefits, and it is apparent now that it does, then it should be handled the way we handle any other medication that comes on the market," Hamm commented, adding that people who possess small amounts of pot should not be classified as criminals. However, regulation of both drugs and criminal law are federal responsibilities, so Hamm's sensible perspectives didn't change anything.

A Long Track Record

Cannabis has been used for medicinal purposes for more than 4,000 years and was listed in the US Pharmacopoeia, a manual of medicines used by physicians, from 1870 until 1942, the first date of revision after the US government outlawed pot in 1937 and launched a hysterical disinformation campaign about the herb.

A growing body of evidence, anecdotal and scientific, backs medical marijuana advocates' contention that Cannabis could be one of the most powerful, versatile drugs in the healing arsenal - and one of the safest as well. In my digging, I've never been able to find a documented case of death from marijuana poisoning - more than one can say for a vast array of legal pharmaceuticals. A 150 lb. person would have to chain-smoke about 900 marijuana cigarettes in order to induce a lethal dose.

A 1985 study published in the Journal of Neurology (236 (1989): 120-122) concluded that therapeutic effects of marijuana on MS symptoms were quantitatively assessable and reproducible in laboratory testing. The researchers suggested that cannabinoids in the marijuana stimulate serotonin production and modify other brain chemicals with therapeutic effect.

Another study (Journal of Clinical Oncology, Vol. 9, No. 7, July 1991) by R. Doblin and M. Kleiman, found that 48% of oncologists surveyed would prescribe marijuana to some of their patients if it were legal, and over 44% already had recommended the illegal use of marijuana for the control of nausea and vomiting.

Scientists at the prestigious Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California, published research findings that tetrahydrocannabinol inhibits formation of amyloid plaque, the primary pathological marker for Alzheimer's disease, and in fact is "a considerably superior inhibitor of [amyloid plaque] aggregation" to several currently approved drugs for treating the disease. With its strong inhibitory abilities, the study said, THC "may provide an improved therapeutic for Alzheimer's disease" that would treat "both the symptoms and progression" of the disease.

Nevertheless, Canadians can be licensed to use medical marijuana only if they satisfy one of three categories.

  1. Terminal illness
  2. Certain specified debilitating medical conditions such as multiple sclerosis
  3. Conditions in which no other medicine has been declared effective by Health Canada.

It's Less Dangerous than Alcohol or Tobacco

I could never look my own kids in the eye and tell them, "Stay away from marijuana, because it's a dangerous drug that can ruin your life," because it manifestly isn't. Not when I know people who have been using it regularly for 40 years and are still in fine fettle and haven't moved on to harder drugs.

The canard that marijuana is a "gateway" drug that leads users to try harder drugs is ideologically-driven and insupportable bunkum that has been discredited in scientific literature showing only one in nine marijuana users goes on to try cocaine, just one in 20 to experiment with heroin, with about 50% of (recreational) marijuana users over age 30.

Risk of developing marijuana dependence is a relatively low 9%, compared with a reported 15% for alcohol, 23% for heroin, and 33% for tobacco, and symptoms of marijuana withdrawal are comparatively mild. Cannabis is one of the most thoroughly "field tested" drugs. About 50% of young North American high school graduates have tried pot, and roughly a third of Canadians admit to having used it. Some have done so for more than 40 years without evident ill-effect, including people I know personally.

It's 72 years since the US criminalized marijuana, 38 since President Nixon declared a "War on Drugs" and Canada copycatted. The result has been a miserable and absurdly expensive failure both in money squandered and lives ruined. Almost all of marijuana's negative effect on our society has been caused by governments' prohibition efforts driving production and distribution into the criminal orbit and not the use of the substance itself.

Britain's prestigious medical journal, The Lancet, declared that: "The smoking of Cannabis, even long-term, is not harmful to health." Research has determined that compared with legal drugs such as tobacco and alcohol, marijuana is much less addictive - if addictive at all - and there is no danger of death from overdose.

On the other hand, legal booze is a factor in a constellation of social malignancies, from drunk driving to alcoholism to domestic abuse and violence to many other crimes. Nearly half of murderers and their victims are alcohol abusers. The toll of misery and ruined lives attributable to alcohol trivializes any problems associated with marijuana use by comparison.

Social Cost of the War on Weed

And the "War on Weed", as destructive and costly as its been for the past half-century, has been a spectacular failure anyway. The UN's 2007 World Drug Report found that Canadians and Americans have the highest rate of Cannabis use among developed nations. 16.8% and 12.6% respectively having used pot in 2004. According to the Canadian Addiction Survey, 50.1% of Canadians aged 44-54 have used pot, and even 12.8% of 64-74 year-olds.

A Canadian Senate report noted that annually 30,000 Canadians are charged with simple possession of marijuana, three-quarters of whom emerge from the process with criminal records. Now there's legitimate cause for moral outrage. As Senator Larry Campbell observed, marijuana is not a drug that causes criminality, and thousands of Canadians are getting criminal records, which can affect their future employment prospects and prevent them from traveling to other countries, for essentially nothing.

Ideology, not Science

If medical marijuana research wasn't being suppressed by governments for ideological and political reasons, indications are that it could prove effective for an even wider range of ailments than ones where it's already being applied (legally and illegally), such as Multiple Sclerosis, other neurological disorders, nausea associated with chemotherapy, epilepsy, asthma, migraines, peptic ulcer, clinical depression, chronic pain, anorexia, alcoholism, inflammation, hypertension, some cancer tumors, and AIDS.

Governments' typical anti-medical marijuana hostility amounts to willful ignorance at best, with people in pain and distress being arbitrarily denied access to a natural substance that at the barest minimum would ease their suffering, and arguably more safely than most, if not all, prescription painkillers.

So I say bravo to AJNAG and Onaga Design and their little medical marijuana iPhone apps. Congratulations and a snappy salute of appreciation to Apple for posting them on the App Store. It's another small step toward sensible, rational resolution of the medical marijuana farrago.

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Charles Moore has been a freelance journalist since 1987 and began writing for Mac websites in May 1998. His The Road Warrior column was a regular feature on MacOpinion, he is news editor at Applelinks.com and a columnist at MacPrices.net. If you find his articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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