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CNN’s Sanjay Gupta’s Support of Medical Marijuana Sparks Debate


CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Sanjay Gupta’s announcement last week that he now supports medical marijuana has sparked a debate among drug policy experts. He wrote an online piece, “Why I Changed My Mind on Weed,” which promoted his documentary, “Weed,” that ran on CNN Sunday night.

Marijuana “doesn’t have a high potential for abuse, and there are very legitimate medical applications. In fact, sometimes marijuana is the only thing that works,” he wrote.

Formerly, Gupta was a vocal opponent of legalizing marijuana. In 2009, he wrote a piece in Time entitled, “Why I Would Vote No on Pot.”

Nora Volkow, Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, told USA Today the debate around marijuana should not focus on whether it is less harmful than alcohol or nicotine, but what harm would be caused by legalizing another drug. “If you look at the data … the costs associated with drugs in our country, which are gigantic, are driven mostly by legal drugs because they’re so accessible. (The legalization of marijuana) will immediately increase the adverse affects,” she said.

Volkow noted marijuana is harmful to teens’ brain development. If the drug is legalized, they may have more access to it, and may consider it less harmful or dangerous. She adds the term “medical marijuana” is misleading, because the Food and Drug Administration has not assessed or approved the drug or its chemical contents, a requirement for all medicines used in the United States.

Jamison Monroe, founder and CEO of Newport Academy in California, a drug treatment program for adolescents, says Gupta’s support of medical marijuana, and the growing legalization movement, “definitely make the work we do more difficult. I don’t think you could say just because one drug is legal something else should be legal. If it does become legalized though, there should at least be an age limit.”

23 Responses to this article

  1. Joe Miller / August 22, 2013 at 7:53 pm

    Daniele, poor logic you say? How does treating an individual with a medical problem like a criminal benefit them? How does treating the vast majority of individuals who use the drug and don’t have a medical problem like criminals benefit them? How does turning over the responsibility for the production and distribution of any widely popular substance help anyone other than criminal predators who have no problem breaking laws?

  2. Daniele G / August 20, 2013 at 11:05 pm

    Is Gupta living in an altenate universe? Where can he possibly come up with saying marijuana has low potential for abuse when probably thousands of teens and young adults are using marijuana 2-5 times a day, have withdrawl (can’t sleep, lose appetite, feel restless and irritable, etc) when they quit and have adverse effects at work and school from their every day yet continue to use or relapse withing days or a couple weeks of stopping. That pretty much defines addiction. I agree that putting just one more legal mind altering substance out there is poor logic. I want him to come tell me this when a kid in his family OD’s or robs him to buy drugs.

  3. Joe Miller / August 19, 2013 at 4:46 pm

    The point Nora Volkow actually needs to be focusing on is not the harm she perceives that the legalization of another drug may cause but rather on the harm the current criminalization of the substance is causing to our communities, youth, and users and non-users alike. When our prohibitionist drug policies themselves cause more harm than the health and social issues they purport to help, we’ve got an even bigger problem!

  4. Avatar of Ilona
    Ilona / August 17, 2013 at 8:11 am

    It’s frustrating Gupta in promoting of his film …. just put his MD credentials to this still narrow message and promotion of THC! There are 12step Marijuana programs for a reason. Today’s marijuana can be of high and varying potency and dose….and to make some of the generalizations he made is simply an irresponsible medical practice and promotion….

  5. Ken Wolski / August 16, 2013 at 8:21 pm

    Dr. Sanjay Gupta, who was President Obama’s original choice to be U.S. Surgeon General, said, “We have been terribly and systematically misled (about marijuana) for nearly 70 years in the United States.” This misinformation continues and NIDA, which refuses to allow research into the benefits of medical marijuana, and only permits research into its harms, is an important part of this misinformation. The federal government has been exaggerating the dangers and denying the benefits of marijuana since 1937. The federal government still insists that there are no accepted medical benefits of marijuana, despite the fact that 20 states and the District of Columbia have passed laws recognizing marijuana as medicine, about a million Americans use marijuana with a physician’s recommendation, and scores of healthcare organizations endorse medical marijuana. Thankfully, research in Israel and other parts of the world is not restricted by American ideology.

  6. perryrants / August 16, 2013 at 3:12 pm

    sad to see that he is a doctor with his statement “doesn’t have a high potential for abuse..” docs who prescribe opiates go to sleep saying the same thing.

    “there are very legitimate medical applications” as heroin does.

  7. Avatar of Tim Nelson
    Tim Nelson / August 16, 2013 at 2:40 pm

    What people fail to realize and what Dr. Gupta correctly states is that there is not enough research on marijuana, especially longterm studies to know if marijuana is actually good or not. The other fact about marijuana it is definetly more concentrated. How do we actually know what the effects really are? If Marijuana is so good for you, why are there so many people in treatment for cannibis addiction?

  8. Eric Wood / August 16, 2013 at 2:12 pm

    The “Medical Marijuana” argument is one of the most successful red herrings in history. Calling it medicine has effectively created the illusion marijuana is harmless and somehow vital for our well-being. Cocaine has medicinal qualities, but you don’t hear anyone clamoring for it to be legal.

  9. Avatar of janet Terry
    janet Terry / August 16, 2013 at 1:33 pm

    I’m frustrated with those who lessen the impact of marijuana abuse by comparing it to other drugs/alcohol. I work with mothers who substance abuse and see on a regular basis the harm THC does to the mother and her ability to parent (let alone drive a car) and get angry when I read/hear someone question whether or not THC is addictive. I treat mothers on a regular basis who cannot stop their use despite losing custody of their child(ren). A drug has to be pretty potent to override the maternal instinct to do anything to protect your child.

  10. Avatar of Gregg
    Gregg / August 16, 2013 at 12:37 pm

    I was sorry to see how Dr. Gupta minimized the 9% addiction rate by comparing it to a higher rate for alcoholism, especially when the 9% constitutes hundreds of thousands of Americans, including teens.

  11. Avatar of Skip Sviokla MD ABAM
    Skip Sviokla MD ABAM / August 16, 2013 at 12:30 pm

    Sanjay Gupta MD, however well intentioned, has muddied the marijuana debate by his lack of a scientifically based editorial statement about the content presented. My position in the marijuana debate is that it’s dangers must be balanced with any attempt to expand it’s use in “medical conditions”. Anyone who would deny treatment to the child portrayed,Charlotte, by a qualified physician in a research setting would be a Luddite, indeed. Sanjay’s report has the effect of reporting anecdotal medicine as scientific research in spite of mild references to the fact that “the research is not yet conclusive” (quotes added). Such is the power of television. To confuse matters even more, Dr. Nora Volkow, an outstanding, highly respected leader in the field of substance abuse research is portrayed unjustly. She could have helped Sanjay get back on track, if he so desired. His recent conversion to accepting the potential benefits of medical marijuana has not done the subject justice.
    Another confusing aspect of the presentation is lost in the description of marijuana being placed as a “Schedule 1″ controlled substance along with other drugs of abuse. If anything, this made allowance for researchers to utilize it legally in legitimate medical research. Its placement in that schedule is neither new nor bad.
    The one valuable message I saw in the show was the presentation of the well established danger of the use of any intoxicant on the young formative brain. Is it any wonder that a large percentage of the vocal support for indiscriminate marijuana use is comprised of young people?
    Critical thinking was absent from CNN and Sanjay Gupta’s “Weed”.

  12. Avatar of Fred Williams
    Fred Williams / August 12, 2013 at 7:06 pm

    Teens can get pot easier now that alcohol. Do you think pot dealers card anyone? Children and teen shouldn’t smoke pot. They shouldn’t even drink caffeine! Why single out pot when there are so many other harmful substances children are given by their parents every day? NOBODY is advocating children/teens getting high. It’s a nonsense argument against legalization. And if you can’t see that it has medical value, you may as well preach the world is flat, because you are wrong. Let’s just look at it rationally and without the hyperbole. This is a nation of personal freedom and shouldn’t we all seek personal liberty and especially truth?

  13. Avatar of Freeman
    Freeman / August 12, 2013 at 6:51 pm

    Sanjay has realized he was wrong and apologized i salute him.Nora Volkow is standing her ground maintaining the anti herb hysteria necessary to ensure next years financial grants.If we follow her reasoning then she should be advocating prohibition of tobacco and alcohol.Maybe Ms Volkow should look at pharmaceuticals manufactured at “compounding” facilities causing the FDA to admit they can’t guarantee drug safety as in the case of fungus tainted meds recently revealed.

  14. jboside / August 12, 2013 at 2:03 pm

    Gupta is after hollywood cool ratings. He has stoped being a doctor to become cool with the Hollywood types. Look what happened with Dr. Drew when he spoke out about marijuana. He was attacked and then they said he was harming people with his Rehab show.

  15. Linda / August 12, 2013 at 1:58 pm

    For those with objective and truth-seeking minds, it is hard to ignore new research that supports benefits of certain cannibanoids’ positive mental and physical effects. Difficulties arise when old, outdated beliefs are clung to in spite of new truths. Just as all areas of life are getting more detailed and require discriminating thoughtfulness, the issue of “medical marijuana” is more deserving of analytical review than dismissal on the grounds of old studies.

  16. Andrew / August 12, 2013 at 1:27 pm

    I am very disappointed in the way this article is written and the way in which Dr. Gupta’s position is summarized. Never did Dr. Gupta say he supports Medical marijuana. What he did say was that he supported more research on the subject. The continued insistence on a narrative that paints advocates as being a member of one of two camps- one as being all for marijuana use and one being all against it- is inaccurate and destructive.

  17. Avatar of Genna Vinson
    Genna Vinson / August 12, 2013 at 11:53 am

    Thank you Nora Volkow for being so clear. Hopefully more people can educate themselves with current research rather than listening to celebrities doctors who do not review the literature.

  18. Avatar of Robert Delaney
    Robert Delaney / August 17, 2013 at 7:39 am

    What Dr. Gupta didn’t mention is the medically accepted figure of 5-10% rate of addictive personality. As many as 10% are addicted to SOMETHING. Makes that 9% statistic immaterial.

  19. Robert Delaney / August 17, 2013 at 7:45 am

    Eric, you are ignorant. Cocaine is a Schedule 2 controlled substance. It has proven medical value, and is legal to prescribe. The fact that ANYONE could watch the difference cannabis made in that little girl’s (and her family’s) life, and still deny its medical value is simply stunning.

  20. Robert Delaney / August 17, 2013 at 7:50 am

    Tim, perhaps you should be asking HOW that many people get into treatment for marijuana. Most are marijuana “offenders” who were given a choice between treatment and jail.

  21. Robert Delaney / August 17, 2013 at 7:56 am

    Skip, you missed something. The fact that cannabis is in Schedule 1 is THE EXCUSE the DEA, NIDA, and FDA use to disallow research. The feds have supplied 4 patients with medical marijuana for over 3 decades, but NEVER studied them. Why?

  22. Robert Delaney / August 17, 2013 at 8:00 am

    No, Freeman, she wouldn’t be advocating for prohibiting alcohol and tobacco, she’d be advocating for prohibition of Vicodin, Oxycontin, Morphine, and the other, more addicting, toxic, and potentially fatal LEGAL drugs.

  23. Avatar of Tom Phillips
    Tom Phillips / August 17, 2013 at 10:41 am

    For Dr. Volkow, whom I generally respect, to say that the term ” ‘medical marijuana’ is misleading, because the Food and Drug Administration has not assessed or approved” marijuana is like saying a real place doesn’t exist because it’s not on a map. The tail doesn’t wag the dog.

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