CNN’s medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta has taken the unusual step of publicly urging Attorney General Jeff Sessions to reconsider his opposition to medical marijuana, particularly as a way to fight the opioid epidemic.
The Indian American physician TV show host wrote a public letter to Sessions, saying that he had changed his mind on the use of medical marijuana, “and I am certain you can, as well.”
In his open letter, Dr. Gupta wrote: “I feel obligated to share the results of my five-year-long investigation into the medical benefits of the cannabis plant. Before I started this worldwide, in-depth investigation, I was not particularly impressed by the results of medical marijuana research, but a few years later, as I started to dedicate time with patients and scientists in various countries, I came to a different conclusion.
“Not only can cannabis work for a variety of conditions such as epilepsy, multiple sclerosis and pain, sometimes, it is the only thing that works. I changed my mind, and I am certain you can, as well. It is time for safe and regulated medical marijuana to be made available nationally. I realize this is an unconventional way to reach you, but your office declined numerous requests for an interview, and as a journalist, a doctor and a citizen, I felt it imperative to make sure you had access to our findings.”
He said he made his plea after Sessions declined to be interviewed for his special on the topic, which aired April 29 on CNN. A spokeswoman for Sessions declined comment April 26.
The CNN special followed football player Mike James and others who say that medical marijuana has both eased the pain of injuries and weaned them from addiction to opioids. Medical marijuana is currently legal in 29 states and Washington, D.C.
Before he began researching the issue a few years ago, Gupta said he was not a believer in medical marijuana and, in fact, thought it was essentially being used as a ladder to recreational use of the drug. But he said he became convinced that research on the issue was intentionally skewed negative, and he spoke to enough people who swear by it.
“The idea that it could work for people, and sometimes is the only thing than can work for people, should give it the respect that it deserves,” he said in an interview. Still, reporters generally tell stories and don’t become advocates the way Gupta has by writing to Sessions.
“I don’t see it, first of all, as a step into advocacy,” he said. “As a journalist, one of the things that we’re obligated to do is speak truth to power and this is a good example of that.” The opioid epidemic lends urgency to the issue, he said.
The special quotes Sessions in a public appearance saying “how stupid is that” to the opinion that medical marijuana could be used to stem heroin addiction. Gupta said the marijuana use needs to be carefully regulated and tested to determine the correct dosages. In his letter to Sessions, Gupta said that if researchers started from scratch to design a medicine to help turn around the opioid epidemic, it would likely look like cannabis.
He said he’s not morally opposed to recreational use of marijuana, which is legal in nine states and the District of Columbia. But he said he didn’t want to confuse the two issues. “People comingle the two issues and I think it’s really hurt the medical marijuana movement,” he said.
“Making medicinal marijuana available should come with certain obligations and mandates, just as with any other medicine. It should be regulated to ensure its safety, free of contamination and consistent in dosing. It should be kept out of the hands of children, pregnant women and those who are at risk for worse side effects. Any responsible person wants to make sure this is a medicine that helps people, not harms,” Dr. Gupta stated.