Pain Relief From Pot Free of Risk, Court Told

June 04, 2004

Richard Watts, Victoria Times-Colonist

Marijuana is one of the most benign drugs known, with active ingredients that even resemble substances found in mother's milk, provincial court heard Thursday. 'There is no doubt in my mind there are very few health risks,' said James Geiwitz, an experimental psychologist whose expertise lies in risk analysis and the assessment of research design. 'It's one of the most benevolent drugs we have discovered in nature,' Geiwitz told Judge Loretta Chaperon.

He was testifying for the defence in the trial of longtime marijuana activist, Ted Smith, 34, and Colby Budda, 30. Both are charged with possession of a controlled substance for the purpose of trafficking.

The charges arise from an operation, known commonly as a 'compassion club,' where marijuana is distributed to people with long-term chronic illnesses. Smith and Budda were working out of a Johnson Street storefront formerly known as Ted's Books, raided on Jan. 3, 2002.

Geiwitz said marijuana's benefits as a pain reliever, anti-nausea agent and appetite stimulant are well known. Its appetite-stimulating component even resembles something found in mother's milk, he told the court. Studies with monkeys and rats have indicated their babies die when that marijuana-like substance is removed from the mother's milk, he said.

Geiwitz testified he has reviewed studies -- anywhere from 150 to 200 of them -- as well as read panel reviews of studies into the health risks and benefits of marijuana.

He gave testimony indicating that marijuana used as pain-relief medicine is in a class by itself. Its effects resemble opiates like morphine, but its long-term effects are more benign than Aspirin or ibuprofen, he said.

'Marijuana is the only chemical pain reliever you can take chronically, for long periods of time, without significant health risks,' he testified.

Geiwitz said as far as he can tell the best studies indicate the only risks associated with marijuana are minor lung damage. But he also said he could find no case of lung cancer or emphysema reported even among long-term, heavy users.

'There is no evidence of any kind that I could find of health risks associated with the long-term use of marijuana,' he said.

'The benefits are great. The risks are very small,' said Geiwitz.

The court also heard Thursday from Ted Smith under cross-examination.

Smith said he never bothered to apply to the federal government for a distributor's permit for marijuana. Government restrictions would make it impossible to help more than a few people at a time, he said. In earlier testimony he said the club has a membership of about 800 people.

Elsewhere, Health Canada, spurred on by other court rulings, has made medical marijuana available to patients via courier. The marijuana is grown in a mine shaft in Flin Flon, Man., and users have been critical of its quality.

Registered users may also grow their own marijuana or have someone grow it for them. But regulations allow people to grow pot for no more than two patients at a time.

The trial continues.


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