Living in a dangerous world

Photo: Lincoln ClarkesPhoto: Lincoln ClarkesThe government says not enough is known about marijuana to allow it, yet many more serious health hazards are permitted and promoted by the feds.
The federal government has a strange double standard towards cannabis. In recent constitutional challenges, the argument has been made that “not enough is known” about marijuana for it to be decriminalized.

The federal government attacked Randy Caine’s constitutional challenge with this claim, and the same “questions remain” argument was used to deny the Chris Clay challenge, which concluded in London, Ontario last Winter.

Unlike Clay, who was charged with trafficking cannabis seedlings, Caine, of Surry BC, was charged with possession. Caine launched his challenge in 1993, after he and a friend were caught finishing off a joint in a parked van. Randy cooperatively confessed to ownership of the roach and surrendered the half-gram of evidence.

In both challenges, the federal defence relied largely on testimony from Dr Harold Kalant, of the Ontrario Addiction Research Foundation. Kalant said that “some studies” show use of marijuana causes impairment, and that charonic use can result in mental impairment in people already prone to psychological problems.

Caine’s lawyer, John Conroy, countered that public helath interests are dealt with under Section 1 of the Charter, where the Crown must prove that the law is “demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.,” and that the penalties for cannabis possession are “reasonable.”

Caine provided a number of expert witnesses, including the co-author of Marijuana Myths, Marijuana Facts, Dr John Morgan, as well as Dr Barry Beyerstein and Prof Neil Boyd of Simon Fraser University, and BC’s Deputy Health Officer, Dr Peck.

“All these witnesses, including the Crown’s witeness, Dr Kalant, testified that moderate use of marijuana poses no harm to the average healthy adult,” said Caine, “Dr Kalant went so far as to say that this would be true even over a lifetime of use. This is an interesting statement coming from the Crown’s own witness.”

Chronic cannabis use is not harmless, but then, there are no foods, drugs, herbs or medical devices that do not pose some health risk, especially when used to excess. Many perfectly legal foods and drugs are quite dangerous, even in moderation.

With that in mind, I’d like to explore the many ways in which our federal health institutions encourage and support a number of practices known to be dangerous and unhealthy, while continuing to prohibit marijuana because of unknown, potential risks.

Buying Science

The Canadian Health Protection Branch, the govenment body responsible for protecting our helath, ultimately takes its orders from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the FDA takes their orders from the US pharmaceutical industry.

A study by University of Toronto researchers showed how doctors are subservient to their personal financial interests. Their results were recently published in The New England Journal of Medicine, and showed that 96% of the doctors who had defended the safety of controversial calcium channel blockers in 1995, had financial ties to the drug manufacturer. A 1995 medical study had warned certain calcium channel blockers may be linked to an increased risk of heart attacks.

Meanwhile, the chairman of Canada’s largest generic drug company accused Industry Minister John Manley of being “completely under the control of the American drug companies,” after Manley and Health Minister Allan Rock released regulations that will permit brand-name drug companies to hold up the sale of cheaper generic drugs. “We spent a lot of time trying to find the right balance between industrial objectives and health policy,” said Rock in an interview, without a hint of irony.

Out with the Old Drugs?

A study has found that Canadians waste millions of dollars each year on new prescription drugs, which are more expensive but no more effective than their older counterparts. Doctors are influenced by aggressive pharmaceutical industry sales pitches to prescribe the latest experimental products, ignoring guidelines that recommend other time-tested drugs.

“There are few guidelines for doctors and no independent efforts to monitor how patients are treated or what drugs are prescribed,” says Dr Michael Rachlis, a Toronto health policy analyst. Dr Joel Lexchin, an emergency room physician and expert on pharmaceutical use, agrees. Lexchin estimates that an astounding one in four prescriptions that doctors write are inappropriate.

Let them eat Ritalin!

The Vancouver Sun has reported that thousands of Canadian children are being prescribed stimulant drugs for a disorder they do not have. Kids misbehaving at home or in school are increasingly being diagnosed with attention-deficit and hyperactivity disorders (ADHD) and given the drug methylphenidate, which includes the brand name Ritalin.

Health Canada, which classifies the drug in the same category as cocaine and amphetamines, reports consumption has increased 456% since 1991. When asked for an estimate of how many children are misdiagnosed, Dr Jean-Marie Ruel, special medical adviser with the Bureau of Drug Surveillance for Health Canada, says “There is no way to know.”

Misdiagnosis of ADHD is so common that American authorities report about half of diagnosed children referred to specialists for a second opinion did not have the disorder.

Ritalin’s Effects

A 1993 study evaluated Ritalin’s side effects in a randomized double-blind placebo-controlled cross-over study with 234 children ages 5 to 15 who met the diagnostic criteria for ADHD. Even at relatively low doses (0.3 mg/kg) Ritalin consumers experienced an increase in insomnia, stomach-aches, head-aches and dizziness and a decrease in appetite.

Studies indicate Ritalin is a “gateway” drug. 17% to 45% of kids given methylphenidate become alchoholic adults, and 9% to 30% develop “drug abuse” problems. Other studies have found that chronic pre-exposure to methylphenidate, and other stimulants, increases the rate of acquisistion to cocaine self-administration in rats, and that treatment with mythylphenidate in childhood predisposes these same individuals as adults to cocaine’s reinforcing effects.

Suppressing Natural Remedies

Meanwhile, effective but inexpensive herbs and vitamins are being suppressed.

New research suggests that if you are among the 20% of Canadians whose blood is high in a substance called homocysteine, you run a greatly increased risk of hardening of the arteries and stroke.

David Spence of the Robars Research Institute at the University of Western Ontario in London says this eveidence has been all but ignored by the medical establishment, which continues to consider cholesterol the only truly important risk factor.

Why the blinders? Explains Spence, “Drug companies have given little support to research on homcysteine because its levels in the blood can be controlled with ordinary vitamins that cannot be patented.”

Chlorine and Miscarriage

Health and water experts are advising against panic on the heels of a new study which shows that pregnant women who drink chlorinated water during their first trimester may be at higher risk of miscarriage.

The heightened risk to pregnant women is linked to exposure to a contaminant found in chlorinated water. The chemical, trihalomethane (TTHM), forms when chlorine reacts with organic plant material.

Secondary ozonation and filtration systems can reduc the levels of TTHM in chrlorinated water, but in a cost-cutting move recently, the Greater Vancouver Regional District acted against the advice of public health officials and delayed installation of such systems.

Dr John Blatherwick, medical health officer for the Vancouver/Richmond health board, wants to see more evidence before he issues a warning. “I’m not going to go out and tell pregnant women they should boil or filter their drinking water, until we see from our constant monitoring whether there is a reason to give such advice.”

Canadian Airborne soldiers in Somalia.  Photo: Vaughan/CanapressCanadian Airborne soldiers in Somalia. Photo: Vaughan/CanapressMalaria Medication Madness

The Canadian military has finally asked that scientists investigate one of the world’s most-used malaria drugs, taken by Canada’s soldiers in Somalia. The military’s decision represents a policy reversal; two years ago, the military decided not to authorize extensive study of the drug.

Reform MP John Cummins said he believes a combination of alcohol and mefloquine (marketed as Lariam) triggered aggressive behaviour by soldiers in Somalia. “The troops were issued mefloquine every Tuesday,” Cummins said. “They called it Psycho Tuesday.”

A 1994 study reported in the British Medical Journal found up to half the patients given high doses of Lariam complained of naseua, dizziness, fatigue, “acute brain syndrome” consisting of disorientation and mental dysfunction, and “psychiatric symptoms” such as acute pscyhosis, memory loss, confusion, hallucinations, aggression, agitation, and hyperactivity.

Although most of these psychiatric symptoms did not last more than 10 days, severe depression can persist up to nine months. Researchers say “there is no explanation for these reactions.”

The makers of Lariam, Roche Laboratories of Switzerland, acknowledge their uncertainty about Lariam in a fact-sheet which accompanies each prescription.

“Its exact mechanism of action is unknown,” explains the leaflet, later warning, “If signs of unexplained anxiety, depression, restlessness or confusion are noticed? the drug must be discontinued.” The military concedes that “recent medical information suggests that severe adverse effects from mefloquine? are not as rare as first thought,” and that “further investigation may be necessary.”

Reasonable & Justified?

These examples are only a few of the health hazards created and endorsed by Canada’s Health Protection Branch. Given that cannabis has been safely used for over five thousand years, is it “reasonable” and “demonstrably justified” for the feds to deprive Randy Caine, Chris Clay, and thousands of other Canadians of their freedom and liberty, on the grounds that “not enough is known” about cannabis?Canadian Airborne soldiers in Somalia. Photo: Vaughan/Canapress

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