Dr. Sanjay Gupta, the chief medical correspondent for CNN and a fixture on cable news, reversed his long-standing opposition to medical marijuana on Thursday.
“I am here to apologize,” he wrote. “I didn’t look hard enough, until now. I didn’t look far enough.”
“[Marijuana] doesn’t have a high potential for abuse,” he continued, “and there are very legitimate medical applications. We have been terribly and systematically misled for nearly 70 years in the United States, and I apologize for my own role in that.”
The mea culpa is a stunning reversal for the high-profile doctor and journalist, who wrote a Time magazine article in 2009 titled, “Why I Would Vote No On Pot,” for which he also apologized.
“I’m here to tell you, as a doctor, that despite all the talk about the medical benefits of marijuana, smoking the stuff is not going to do you any good,” he wrote.
Other healthcare experts praised Gupta’s change of heart.
“I applaud Dr. Gupta for looking at the wealth of evidence supporting marijuana’s safe, therapeutic use and for so publicly reversing his position,” said Dan Riffle, the deputy director of government relations at the D.C.-based Marijuana Policy Project.
“It takes a brave man to admit he was wrong,” he told The Daily Caller News Foundation.
Gupta changed his mind on pot after researching the psychoactive plant for over a year while working on “Weed,” a new documentary premiering this Sunday.
The doctor claims he spoke to health professionals, growers and patients “around the world,” as well as reading hundreds of medical reports from the 1840s to the present.
The CNN commentator alleges that since at least 1970, when marijuana was first classified as a schedule 1 substance with “no currently accepted medical use in treatment,” the federal government has misled the public and and refused to allow further research into the potential medical benefits of the drug.
“About 6% of the [20,000] current U.S. marijuana studies investigate the benefits of medical marijuana,” he wrote. “The rest are designed to investigate harm. That imbalance paints a highly distorted picture.”
He also claimed that scientists have a difficult time obtaining marijuana for study and an even more difficult time obtaining approval from the National Institute on Drug Abuse for research into its potential benefits.
Despite this, Gupta says that evidence of the plant’s benefit is irrefutable, citing evidence that the drug helps patients suffering from maladies as varied as epilepsy, chronic neuropathic pain and cancer.
“Take the case of Charlotte Figi, who I met in Colorado,” he wrote. “She started having seizures soon after birth. By age 3, she was having 300 a week, despite being on seven different medications. Medical marijuana has calmed her brain, limiting her seizures to 2 or 3 per month.”
Not everyone is happy with Dr. Gupta’s newfound enthusiasm for medical cannabis. “As time has gone on, we have become more aware of the harms of marijuana than we have in the past,” said Scott Chipman, the southern California co-chair for Citizens Against Legalizing Marijuana.
“Marijuana is one of the most researched drugs of all time, and continues to be found having serious health risks associated with its use, particularly among young people,” he told TheDCNF.
Chipman rattled off a litany of ailments he alleged were caused by marijuana usage, including testicular cancer, chronic bronchitis, brain damage, schizophrenia and IQ loss.
“It’s important to identify marijuana through the FDA process,” Chipman said. “It continues to be identified as a schedule 1 drug. The FDA continues to identify no medical value from smoking marijuana.”
“We shouldn’t be voting with public opinion on what should be a medicine,” he concluded. “That should be done through the standard double-blind studies that have been used for many decades to identify what is an appropriate medicine and what is not.”
A Fox News poll in February put national support for medicinal marijuana at 85 percent,and a Pew Research poll conducted a month later indicated that 77 percent of Americans believe the plant has legitimate medical uses.
Chipman did not comment on why he believed Gupta changed his mind on medicinal marijuana because he had not yet read the doctor’s op-ed at the time of this writing.
While medical marijuana advocates welcomed Gupta’s change of heart, most doubt that the federal government will change its policy anytime soon. “I expect them to ignore Dr. Gupta,” Riffle said, “just as they have ignored calls to reexamine our failed marijuana policies by the AMA, two former US surgeons general, and countless other medical experts. I hope I’m wrong.”
The National Institute on Drug Abuse did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
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