Marijuana Helped to Save My Life,
Prominent Harvard Scholar Says

Pubdate: Wed, 05 Aug 1998
Source: Ottawa Citizen (Canada)
Author: Luiza Chwialkowska

Marijuana Helped to Save My Life, Prominent Harvard Scholar Says

Stephen Jay Gould tells Toronto court to allow medical use of drug

His books crowd best-seller lists, he holds 40 honorary degrees, and in legendary lectures that combine poetry with the study of ancient fossils, he has taught generations of Harvard students how life evolved on Earth.

In July 1982, doctors told geologist Stephen Jay Gould -- whose mind dwells in prehistory and who measures time in billions of years -- that he had eight short months to live.  With his career in full bloom, he was diagnosed with a rare and incurable cancer called abdominal mesothelioma.

A case study in determination, Mr.  Gould was one of the first people on Earth to beat the disease, thanks to surgery, radiation, and years of torturous chemotherapy.  But the ``most important effect upon my eventual cure,'' he says in hindsight, was the illegal drug, marijuana.

Mr.  Gould is one in a chorus of patients and experts whose stories and studies will be heard today in Ontario General Division Court, where a Toronto AIDS patient is suing the federal government for the right to smoke marijuana as part of his medical treatment.

An academician who hates to fog his prodigious mind with any kind of substance -- he doesn't touch alcohol and hates drugs -- Mr.  Gould smoked marijuana to reduced the otherwise uncontrollable nausea that came with the chemotherapy that saved his life.

``I was miserable and came to dread the frequent treatments with an almost perverse intensity,'' he wrote of the chemotherapy.

``Absolutely nothing in the available arsenal of (anti-nausea medications) worked at all.''

Marijuana, on the other hand, ``worked like a charm.''

Marijuana also works for Jim Wakeford, a 53-year-old Toronto community activist with AIDS, who says his right to smoke the drug for its anti-nausea and appetite-inducing effects is protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

``It is beyond my comprehension,'' wrote Mr.  Gould of marijuana laws, ``that any humane person would withhold such a beneficial substance from people in such great need simply because others use it for different purposes.''

Mr.  Wakeford is asking for a constitutional exemption from the laws he has to break to produce and possess the drug.  He also wants the court to force the federal government to ``produce and/or provide (him) a lawful and safe source of medicinal marijuana.''

The founder of such highly regarded charities as the Oolagen Community Centre, the Ontario Association of Children's Mental Health Centres, and the Casey House Foundation, Mr.  Wakeford almost died this spring while waiting for this case to be heard.

His doctor, Toronto AIDS specialist John Goodhew, says smoking two marijuana cigarettes a day is keeping Mr.  Wakeford alive.

AIDS was causing him to literally waste away earlier this year.  His weight dropped from 140 pounds to 118 pounds.  He was put on intensive intravenous feeding that gave him hepatitis and nearly killed him.

Mr.  Wakeford quit that and used marijuana to stimulate his appetite instead.  He is now back to 132 pounds and will restart his anti-AIDS medicines when he gains more weight.  When he starts them again, however, he will still need the marijuana.  Like Mr.  Gould, he uses it to fight nausea.

His lawyer, Osgoode Hall law professor Alan Young, will argue today that Canada's marijuana laws violate Mr.  Wakeford's rights under Sections 7 and 15 of the Charter.

``Criminalizing the therapeutic use of marijuana constitutes a deprivation of life, liberty and security of the person (Section 7),'' Mr.  Young states in court documents.  ``State interference with bodily integrity and serious state-imposed psychological stress constitutes a serious breach of security of the person.''

The Controlled Drugs and Substances Act also violates Section 15 of the Charter, says Mr.  Young, because it ``denies (Mr.  Wakeford) equal benefit of the law on the basis of the enumerated ground of physical disability.'' The legislation also discriminates against AIDS victims, he will tell the court.

Rather than bringing a live caravan of witnesses before the court, lawyers have submitted testimony in the form of written affidavits over the past two months.  Today is the first time they will argue in person before Judge Harry LaForme.

Mr.  Young will summarize four volumes of evidence consisting of four personal stories, including Mr.  Gould's, and expert opinions from seven pharmacologists, psychiatrists, oncologists, and AIDS specialists.

The medical experts include Lester Grinspoon, a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, who has been studying the social and medicinal aspects of cannabis since 1969, and documented Mr.  Gould's case in a book Marijuana -- The Forbidden Medicine.

``Marijuana is the wonder drug of the future,'' Dr.  Grinspoon told the Citizen in an interview yesterday.

Comparing it to penicillin, Dr.  Grinspoon said the drug is versatile in its uses.  ``It can help glaucoma, migraines, muscle spasms, and nausea,'' he says, is cheap to produce, (``30 to 40 cents per dose rather than $30-$40 for conventional anti-nausea medicines,'') and is ``non-toxic.''

``One to two thousand people in the U.S.  die every year from Aspirin, but no one has ever documented a death from marijuana,'' said Dr.  Grinspoon.

Mr.  Wakeford, on the other hand, might die without it.

``The marijuana is what is allowing him to eat and live,'' insists Dr.  Goodhew.

A verdict is likely to take several weeks, but could come as early as this afternoon.

Mr.  Wakeford vows to continue his fight regardless of today's outcome.

He won a $50,000 grant from the federal Court Challenges program that supports cases challenging legislation under the equality provisions of the Charter.  He has also raised $10,000 for the Wakeford Medical Marijuana Expense Fund and is looking for more donations.

``As long as I'm still alive, I will try to get safe, clean, and affordable medical marijuana for everyone with HIV and AIDS,'' he says.

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