After studying cannabis for more than two years, a team of experts hand-picked by President Richard M. Nixon returned with a set of recommendations that started with immediately removing all criminal penalties for cannabis, including “casual distributions of small amounts,” since “neither the marijuana user nor the drug itself can be said to constitute a danger to public safety.”
“Criminal law is too harsh a tool to apply to personal possession even in the effort to discourage use…It implies an overwhelming indictment of the behavior which we believe is not appropriate. The actual and potential harm of use of the drug is not great enough to justify intrusion by the criminal law into private behavior, a step which our society takes only with the greatest reluctance.”
Known collectively as the Shafer Commission, the eminent researchers that compiled the report knew all-too-well that their findings flew in the face of the government’s official position on legalization, but hoped nonetheless their comprehensive research would spark a fact-based debate of the evidence that would in turn lead to significant reform.
Instead, Nixon attacked the commission and ignored its recommendations, before pushing the whole thing down the memory hole. The very next year, he created the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and charged them with waging “all out war” on cannabis.
The first ever study to show that cannabis exhibits anti-tumor properties was originally designed to demonstrate the plant’s dangers, specifically harm to the immune system. Funded by NIDA and a grant from the American Cancer Society, researchers at the Medical College of Virginia implanted tumors into mice, which were then “treated for 10 consecutive days with delta-9-THC, beginning the day after tumor implantation.” Presumably to show that THC makes cancer grow faster.
Instead, when the research was published in The Journal of the National Cancer Institute, it showed that ”mice treated for 20 consecutive days with THC and CBN had reduced primary tumor size.”
Great news, right?
The study’s authors were certainly ready to investigate this exciting development further, but instead, NIDA cut off all of their funding and made every effort possible to suppress their research. As a result, only a single newspaper article, published August 18, 1974 in the local section of the Washington Post, covered this breakthrough discovery.
It would take nearly three decades before Dr. Manuel Guzman, professor of biochemistry at the University of Madrid, managed to follow up on the original 1974 experiments, with similar results. In the March 2000 issue of the journal Nature Medicine, Guzman reported that cannabinoids (like THC) not only shrink cancerous tumors in mice, they do so without damaging surrounding tissues.
Harvard Medical School Associate Professor Dr. Lester Grinspoon first started researching cannabis back the 1960s, in an effort to convince his best friend, famed astronomer Carl Sagan, to stop smoking so darn much of the stuff. Quickly, however, Grinspoon realized the case against cannabis was all based on government propaganda—an insight he explored in depth in a bestselling book called Marihuana Reconsidered (1971).
Ever since, the good doctor has been a leading voice for medical cannabis. He also witnessed the plant’s therapeutic power firsthand when his son Danny was diagnosed with leukemia at age 15, as he explained in a personal essay on his life’s journey with the plant.
“On a normal day of chemotherapy, I hoped we could make it home from the hospital before Danny’s vomiting would start, and we always had to put a big bucket next to his bed. But the first time he tried taking a few puffs prior to a round of treatments, he got off the gurney and said, ‘Mom, there’s a sub shop in Brookline. Could we stop for a sub-sandwich on the way home?’ And all I thought was, ‘Wow.’”
Dr. Grinspoon eventually convinced the head of Boston Children’s Hospital’s oncology department to undertake a 1975 study (published in the New England Journal of Medicine) that for the first time demonstrated the efficacy of THC for nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy.