Cannabis 'Scrips to Calm Kids?
By Kelley Beaucar Vlahos
Tuesday, April 20, 2004
WASHINGTON - As a California pediatrician and 49-year-old mother of two
teenage daughters, Claudia Jensen says pot might prove to be the
preferred medical treatment for attention deficit disorder - even in
"Why would anyone want to give their child an expensive pill . with
unacceptable side effects, when he or she could just go into the
backyard, pick a few leaves off a plant and make tea for him or her
instead?" Jensen asked the Drug Policy Subcommittee of the House
Government Reform Committee earlier this month.
While some wonder whether Jensen was smoking some wacky weed herself,
the clinician for low-income patients and professor to first-year
medical students at the University of Southern California said her beliefs
grounded: The drug helps ease the symptomatic mood swings, lack of
focus, anxiety and irritability in people suffering from
neuropsychiatric disorders like ADD and attention deficit/hyperactivity
"Cannabinoids are a very viable alternative to treating adolescents with
ADD and ADHD," she told Foxnews.com. "I have a lot of adult patients who
swear by it."
Under California state law, physicians are allowed to recommend to
patients the use of marijuana to treat illnesses, although the federal
government has maintained that any use of marijuana - medicinal or
otherwise - is illegal. The federal courts have ruled that physicians
like Jensen cannot be prosecuted for making such recommendations.
Jensen said she regularly writes prescriptions recommending the use of
marijuana for patients -particularly those suffering pain and nausea
from chronic illnesses, such as AIDS, cancer, glaucoma and arthritis.
She has also worked with one family of a 15-year-old - whose family had
tried every drug available to help their son, who by age 13 had become a
problem student diagnosed as suffering from ADHD. Under Jensen's
supervision, he began marijuana treatment, settling on cannabis in food
and candy form, and he has since found equilibrium and regularly attends
But not everyone is so high on the idea of pot for students with
neurological illnesses. Subcommittee Chairman Mark Souder, R-Ind., who
invited Jensen to testify after reading about her ideas in the
newspaper, was hardly convinced by her testimony.
"I do believe that Dr. Jensen really wants to help her patients, but I
think she is deeply misguided when she recommends marijuana to teenagers
with attention deficit disorder or hyperactivity," he told Foxnews.com.
"There is no serious scientific basis for using marijuana to treat those
conditions, and Dr. Jensen didn't even try to present one."
Dr. Tom O'Connell, a retired chest surgeon who now works with patients
at a Bay Area clinic for patients seeking medical marijuana
recommendations, is working on it. He said cannabis not only helps pain,
but also can treat psychological disorders. He is currently conducting a
study of hundreds of his patients, whom he said he believes have been
self-medicating with pot and other drugs for years, and he hopes to
publish a paper on the subject soon.
"My work with cannabis patients is certainly not definitive at this
point, but it strongly suggests that the precepts upon which cannabis
prohibition have been based are completely spurious," O'Connell said.
Worse yet, he added, the prohibition has successfully kept certain
adolescents away from pot who now turn to tobacco and alcohol instead.
Jensen, who said she believes Souder invited her to testify to
"humiliate me and incriminate me in some way," suggested that a growing
body of evidence is being developed to back medical marijuana chiefly
for chronic pain and nausea. She said it is difficult, however, for
advocates like herself to get the funding and permission to conduct
government-recognized tests on ADD/ADHD patients.
"Unfortunately, no pharmaceutical companies are motivated to spend the
money on research, and the United States government has a monopoly on
the available marijuana and research permits," she told Congress.
Studies done on behalf of the government, including the 1999 Institute
of Medicine's "Marijuana and Medicine: Assessing the
Science Base," found that marijuana delivers effective THC and other
cannabinoids that serve as pain relief and nausea-control agents. But
these same studies warn against the dangers of smoking marijuana and
suggest other FDA-approved drugs are preferable.
"We know all too well the dangerous health risks that accompany
(smoking)," said Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., ranking member on the
subcommittee, who like Souder, was not impressed by Jensen's arguments.
"It flies in the face of responsible medicine to advocate a drug that
had been known to have over 300 carcinogens and has proven to be as
damaging to the lungs as cigarette smoking," added Jennifer Devallance,
spokeswoman for the White House Office of Drug Control Policy.
The government points to Food and Drug Administration-approved Marinol,
a THC-derived pill that acts as a stand-in for marijuana.
But many critics say there are nasty side effects, and it's too
expensive for the average patient.
On the other hand, Jensen and others say cannabinoids can be made into
candy form, baked into food or boiled into tea. They say that despite
the FDA blessing, giving kids amphetamines like Ritalin for ADD and
other behavioral disorders might be more dangerous.
"Ritalin is an amphetamine - we have all of these youngsters running
around on speed," said Keith Stroup, spokesman for the National
Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.
"Although it flies in the face of conventional wisdom, it's nevertheless
true that cannabis is far safer and more effective than the prescription
agents currently advocated for treatment of ADD-ADHD," O'Connell said.
Stroup said if Souder's intention was to harangue Jensen, he was
unsuccessful in the face of her solid and articulate testimony on April
"It was a good day for her, and a good day for medical marijuana in
Congress," he said.
Nick Coleman, a subcommittee spokesman, said Souder doesn't "try to
"But to promote medical marijuana for teenagers with ADD ... he does not
feel that is a sound and scientific medical practice," Coleman said.
While the issue of treating adolescents with medical marijuana is fairly
new, the idea of using pot to treat chronically and terminally ill
patients is not. Nine states currently have laws allowing such
practices. A number of lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have added
that they want the states to decide for themselves whether to pursue
medical marijuana laws.
Among those lawmakers are Reps. Ron Paul, R-Texas, a physician; Dana
Rohrabacher, R-Calif.; and Barney Frank, D-Mass.
"(Rep. Paul) believes there are some legitimate applications," like for
pain and nausea, said spokesman Jeff Deist. "But the real issue is that
states should decide for themselves."
© 2004 FoxNews
Distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in
receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.