Leading Anti-Marijuana Academics Are Paid By Painkiller Drug Companies

This article originally appeared on VICE.com.

photo-Image via Flickr -Marijuana

Image via Flickr -Marijuana

As Americans continue to embrace pot—as medicine and for recreational use—opponents are turning to a set of academic researchers to claim that policymakers should avoid relaxing restrictions around marijuana. It’s too dangerous, risky, and untested, they say. Just as drug company-funded research has become incredibly controversial in recent years, forcing major medical schools and journals to institute strict disclosure requirements, could there be a conflict of interest issue in the pot debate?


VICE has found that many of the researchers who have advocated against legalizing pot have also been on the payroll of leading pharmaceutical firms with products that could be easily replaced by using marijuana. When these individuals have been quoted in the media, their drug-industry ties have not been revealed.

photo-Marijuana  Brett Levin via Flickr

Marijuana Brett Levin via Flickr

Take, for example, Dr. Herbert Kleber of Columbia University. Kleber has impeccable academic credentials, and has been quoted in the press and in academic publications warning against the use of marijuana, which he stresses may cause wide-ranging addiction and public health issues. But when he’s writing anti-pot opinion pieces for CBS News, or being quoted by NPR and CNBC, what’s left unsaid is that Kleber has served as a paid consultant to leading prescription drug companies, including Purdue Pharma (the maker of OxyContin), Reckitt Benckiser (the producer of a painkiller called Nurofen), and Alkermes (the producer of a powerful new opioid called Zohydro).

Denver’s Marijuana Gold Rush Is Forcing Out Locals. Read more here.
Kleber, who did not respond to a request for comment, maintains important influence over the pot debate. For instance, his writing has been cited by the New York State Association of Chiefs of Police in its opposition to marijuana legalization, and has been published by the American Psychiatric Association in the organization’s statement warning against marijuana for medicinal uses.

Google images

Could Kleber’s long-term financial relationship with drug firms be viewed as a conflict of interest? Studies have found that pot can be used for pain relief as a substitute for major prescription painkillers. The opioid painkiller industry is a multibillion business that has faced rising criticism from experts because painkillers now cause about 16,000 deaths a year, more than heroin and cocaine combined. Researchers view marijuana as a safe alternative to opioid products like OxyContin, and there are no known overdose deaths from pot.


Other leading academic opponents of pot have ties to the painkiller industry. Dr. A. Eden Evins, an associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, is a frequent critic of efforts to legalize marijuana. She is on the board of an anti-marijuana advocacy group, Project SAM, and has been quoted by leading media outlets criticizing the wave of new pot-related reforms. “When people can go to a ‘clinic’ or ‘cafe’ and buy pot, that creates the perception that it’s safe,” she told the Times last year.


These academic revelations add fodder to the argument that drug firms maintain quiet ties to the marijuana prohibition lobby.
Notably, when Evins participated in a commentary on marijuana legalization for the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, the publication found that her financial relationships required a disclosure statement, which noted that as of November 2012, she was a “consultant for Pfizer and DLA Piper and has received grant/research support from Envivo, GlaxoSmithKline, and Pfizer.” Pfizer has moved aggressively into the $7.3 billion painkiller market. In 2011, the company acquired King Pharmaceuticals (the makers of several opioid products) and is currently working to introduce Remoxy, an OxyContin competitor.
As ProPublica reported, painkiller-funded researchers helped fuel America’s deadly addiction to opioids such as OxyContin and Vicodin. These academics, with quiet funding from major pain pill firms, encouraged doctors to over-prescribe these drugs for a range of pain relief issues, leading to where we stand today as the world’s biggest consumer of painkillers and the overdose capital of the planet. What does it say about medical academia today that many of that painkiller-funded researchers are now standing in the way of a safer alternative: smoking a joint.

Follow Lee Fang on Twitter: @lhfang

Photo by Brett Levin via Flickr

This One Thing is Leading to Fewer Prescription Drug Deaths

This One Thing is Leading to Fewer Prescription Drug Deaths

Feb 21, 2015
Spread the Word to
Friends And Family
By Sharing this Article.


Cannabis Background
Photo credit: marijuanapictures.com

The journal JAMA Internal Medicine published a study that showed that states which had legalized medical marijuana had a 25 percent drop in the number of deaths that were related to prescription drug overdoses.

The scientists who conducted the study found that the legalization of marijuana makes it more easily available for subjects with chronic pain and it provides a much less lethal alternative for managing to control pain over the long term.

When this research program began back in 1999, only 3 states had legalized medical marijuana. The study continued through 2010, at which time it was legal in 23 states and the District of Columbia. Medical marijuana has recently been legalized in all 50 states.

The states that were studied were the ones that allowed medical marijuana at the time. The study shows that those states had 1,729 fewer overdose deaths in 2010 than in states that still outlawed medical marijuana.

photo credit:www.viavilla.com

Statistics from the CDC say that deaths from prescription painkillers have literally gone through the roof over the past 20 years, jumping 118 percent between 1999 and 2011. The CDC estimates that about 113 people die each day from drug overdoses and almost 7,000 people end up in hospital emergency rooms due to overdoses.

A researcher and physician working out of the University of Pennsylvania, and the lead author of this study, Dr. Marcus Bachhuber, stated that although he did expect to see some changes between states that legalized marijuana and those that did not but he was shocked that the number were so huge.

photo credit:www.coolchaser.com

Dr. Bachhuber said that he dealt with many people who had problems with chronic pain and they sometimes told him that the only thing that worked to control their pain was marijuana. Read more how to stop chronic pain in 2015.

Doctors have been using a combination of different pain killers for quite some time, including Tylenol combined with opioids. When combinations of pain killers are used, they are generally able to reduce the amount of opioid dose, thereby decreasing the risk of an overdose.

Photo credit: www.livescience.com

Photo credit:

However, according to a professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management at the Philadelphia Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Dr. Colleen L. Barry, states that allow medical marijuana allowed doctors to use it as a replacement for other types of painkillers that carried a much greater health risk.

As our awareness of the problems of addiction and overdose that go along with the use of opioid medications such as Vicodin and OxyContin, doctors might just be choosing to treat pain completely, or least in part, with medical marijuana.

The use of medical marijuana means that there is the potential to save a large number of lives. Many people are rethinking what they have been told about the relative harm as compared to the relative benefits of marijuana.

Photo credit:pixshark.com

Of course some people don’t like the results of this study and doubt that a connection can be drawn between fewer deaths and the use of medical marijuana. Some people are concerned that patients might end up abusing their marijuana, as they would their prescription painkiller. There are also concerns that increasing access to marijuana also increases the risk that children or young people will begin abusing it. There really is no need to worry, however, as there has never been a reported case of anyone overdosing on marijuana.

SEE ALSO: Make Your Own Natural Salve for Pain Relief

Dr. Bachhuber and his research team would like to conduct more research so they can clearly understand the long term effects that might come with the regular use of cannabis, even for patients who have serious health conditions.


Marcus Bachhuber, M.D., researcher, Center for Health Equity Research and Promotion, Philadelphia Veterans Affairs Medical Center

John Thomas, J.D., M.P.H., professor, Quinnipiac University School of Law, Hamden, Conn

Bradley Flansbaum, D.O., M.P.H., hospitalist, Lenox Hill Hospital, New York City; Aug. 25, 2014, JAMA Internal Medicine

PrevPage: 2 of 2Next

Illegal marijuana cultivation is devastating


Christi Turner

Scattered throughout California’s public forests, authorities found 315,000 feet of plastic hose, 19,000 pounds of fertilizer and 180,000 pounds of trash on more than 300 illegal marijuana plantations in 2012 alone.

The tally comes from a new video by the U.S. Forest Service, describing the extensive and alarming damage caused by “trespass grows” hidden within the state’s public forested land. According to the video, the nation’s high demand for weed and paradoxical policies are exacting an “overwhelming” price on the environment, to the point where trespass grow investigations now comprise the bulk of Forest Service law enforcement work in the region, which includes California, Hawaii and the Pacific Islands.

But for a moment, put aside the fact that the crop in question is marijuana. For Rick Fleming, director of the High Sierra Volunteer Trail Crew and a devoted trespass grow cleanup partner in the Sierra region featured in the film, it might as well be illegal corn or strawberries.



Chemicals and waste

Chemical herbicides and pesticides and large tanks of liquified natural gas (for cooking) are among the more dangerous waste collected during a trespass grow cleanup. Photo courtesy of Rick Fleming.
“They’re killing our animals, trashing our forest and destroying our water supply,” Fleming said of the illegal growers. “It’s not so much a political issue as it is just trying to preserve public lands.”

Since 2008, Fleming has been organizing volunteer crews to work with the Forest Service and local law enforcement to clean up illegal grow sites. In 2013, the Forest Service and law enforcement officials removed nearly one million marijuana plants across hundreds of sites in California. “Sometimes it’s 10,000 plants (at a site). Sometimes it’s 50 plants,” he said. “That doesn’t matter so much for us. What matters is the infrastructure that’s left,” like makeshift reservoirs filled with diverted water from streams.

But for Fleming’s volunteer cleanup crews, the most remarkable thing is always “just how much trash – tons and tons of trash.” Among the waste typically hauled out: tents, sleeping bags, stoves, propane tanks, clothing, food packaging, even discarded weapons.


Trespass growers dig makeshift reservoirs, or holding ponds, to store illegally diverted water for irrigating their marijuana plants. Photo courtesy of Rick Fleming.
The thousands of pounds of herbicides and pesticides used by trespass growers pose another threat; most of them are applied in dangerously high doses, and some of them have even been banned in this country. California’s Eastern District U.S. Attorney Benjamin Wagner notes that his office is “increasingly charging marijuana growers not only with drug crimes, but with environmental crimes,” including dozens of indictments of trespass growers on public lands in 2012 and 2013.

Mourad Gabriel, wildlife pathologist and another trespass grow cleanup expert in the film, has been tracking the harmful effects of some of the toxins on Pacific fishers, small carnivorous mammals already being considered for the endangered species list now being pushed to the edge by pesticide poisoning.

And what about those hundreds of thousands of feet of hose? In a state plagued by drought, trespass growers illegally obstruct and divert water, sometimes from miles away. At about 6 gallons of water per plant per day over 150 watering days, a trespass grow site with 10,000 plants diverts 60,000 gallons of water per day, or 9 million gallons in a season. Herbicides and pesticides added to irrigation water seep into the ground and back into the local water supply, causing everything from algal blooms to total ecosystem destruction. In the coho salmon habitat of Humboldt County’s Mattole watershed, hundreds of trespass grow sites threaten to undo millions of dollars of habitat preservation efforts.


Garbage from a trespass grow site, including large rolls of plastic irrigation pipe, is packed and ready to be hauled away. Photo courtesy of Rick Fleming.
How could this all happen? The answers, of course, reflect the fact that we aren’t dealing with illegal plantations of corn or strawberries after all – but a contentious, high-value substance, and during a historic moment when societal views are shifting in its favor but regulations lag behind. In a video report by Dan Rather released last October, U.S. Representative for California’s 2nd District Jared Huffman said that ultimately the problem stems from the conflict between state and federal law.

In February, Huffman and 17 other members of Congress, including Colorado’s Jared Polis and Oregon’s Earl Blumenauer, urged President Obama to demote marijuana on the federal Controlled Substance Act, or remove it altogether. Marijuana is listed as a Schedule I substance – the strictest classification, higher than cocaine or methamphetamine. “Classifying marijuana as Schedule I at the federal level perpetuates an unjust and irrational system,” wrote the congressmen. With marijuana now legal for recreational use in two states and for medical use in 21 states and D.C., not to mention the trespass grow dilemma, “This makes no sense.”


Illegal growers left an animal hide to dry, presumably after it was killed for disturbing the grow site. Photo courtesy of Rick Fleming.
In the video report, Huffman emphasized that as long as it’s a federal crime, there won’t be the option to create effective institutions to regulate and tax marijuana. Until it is decriminalized, so that growers can raise their crops without hiding them deep in public forests, he said, the environmental devastation will continue. Federal regulations could create environmental and public health standards for marijuana agriculture and provide transparency for consumers who want assurance that their weed is clean and “green.”

There are, of course, less environmentally harmful ways to get weed, like growing your own. But even homegrown or indoor-grown pot brings hidden environmental costs – including six times more energy consumption than the pharmaceutical industry, according to a major national study. But perhaps this cost is preferable to the other extreme.

“It’s really different than deforesting the forest and killing the animals and contaminating our water supply,” Fleming said. “It’s supposed to be a forest. It’s supposed to be public lands.”

Christi Turner is an editorial intern at High Country News. She tweets @christi_mada.

Like Tweet +1 LinkedIn Email

Marijuana may be even safer?

The Washington Post
Marijuana may be even safer than previously thought, researchers say
New study: We should stop fighting marijuana legalization and focus on alcohol and tobacco instead
By Christopher Ingraham February 23

Compared with other recreational drugs — including alcohol — marijuana may be even safer than previously thought. And researchers may be systematically underestimating risks associated with alcohol use.


photo Marijuana Leaf

Marijuana Leaf


Those are the top-line findings of recent research published in the journal Scientific Reports, a subsidiary of Nature. Researchers sought to quantify the risk of death associated with the use of a variety of commonly used substances. They found that at the level of individual use, alcohol was the deadliest substance, followed by heroin and cocaine.


And all the way at the bottom of the list? Weed — roughly 114 times less deadly than booze, according to the authors, who ran calculations that compared lethal doses of a given substance with the amount that a typical person uses. Marijuana is also the only drug studied that posed a low mortality risk to its users.


These findings reinforce drug-safety rankings developed 10 years ago under a slightly different methodology. So in that respect, the study is more of a reaffirmation of previous findings than anything else. But given the current national and international debates over the legal status of marijuana and the risks associated with its use, the study arrives at a good time.