Waiting to Inhale (2005)

Tuesday, March 06, 2007
Ned Jiffe's 2005 documentary focuses on the struggle in the United States to make marijuana legal for medicinal purposes. A large number of people suffering from glaucoma, cancer, HIV/AIDS, and MS (among other illnesses and conditions) claim that smoking marijuana eases the pain they experience and allows them freedom from other symptoms of their diseases. The film touches on a number of issues including the use of cannabis in medicines from it's introduction in the 1860s (in the US) to the time it was made illegal in the early 1940s; its association with the 'counter-culture' at various times during the past century; early human studies on the effects of marijuana; and the first patients, beginning with Patient 0 (Robert Randell who suffered from glaucoma), legally perscribed marijuana cigarettes. It also highlights a number of organizations dedicated to the legalization and distribution of marijuana and cannabis products (eg: WAMM, OCBC).

I was a bit miffed at one point when they were interviewing the founder of the Courage to Speak Foundation, Ginger Katz and other anti-drug and alcohol activists. I completely understand their stance on drugs and alcohol (more on that below) but they seemed to be missing the point in regards to the argument put forward by the film. Ms. Katz at one point states "I know hundreds of moms who have lost their kids to drugs and it all started with tobacco, a sip of beer, and marijuana." Fair enough. And she's likely right. However, the filmmakers and the proponents of medicinal marijuana are not advocating wide spread use of cannabis to everyone nor providing access to minors. They are asking for the right to use the plants as they would use any other LEGAL medicine. Ms. Katz, who lost her son to drugs at the age of 19, makes a good argument for opposition to the legalization of marijuana and other drugs but doesn't seem to want to accept that for some, it may also provide medical benefits not available through traditional medications.

Many of the marijuana users in the film claim that its usage has helped them regain their appetite (not surprising!), eases pain, increases motor ability, decreases anxiety regarding the outcome they all know is coming, reduces nausea and vomiting often associated with the numerous drugs they take, and essentially allows them to function on a day to day basis. Its a shame that the issue still seems to be unresolved in much of the US. At times like this, I feel very lucky to live in a country like Canada where the use of marijuana for medical purposes is legal. We were also among the first countries to allow the use of a spray version, Sativex.

I've tried marijuana, a couple of times...although I guess that means that I was no longer "trying" it. I know what it does to me, how it makes me feel, and frankly I can't imagine why anyone would want to feel that way - unless of course it's a vast improvement over the way cancer and AIDS medications must make you feel. There are synthetic compounds which contain cannabis but many people who've used the drugs and tried smoking natural sources seem to prefer the natural source and have claimed that the benefits are far greater. Considering that there is evidence of the use of cannabis for thousands of years, it's not surprising that people are turning towards more natural remedies.

Based on what I've read and the personal experiences of people I've known, if it helps someone deal with a terminal illness, go for it. I'm all for the use of medicinal marijuana. Why should they be denied it? We inject patients full of morphine and other painkillers to make their last days a bit more bearable, why shouldn't they be allowed to smoke their medication if that's the decision they make? People should be allowed options with every aspect of their healthcare. My issues on the subject of legalization of marijuana for non-medical use however are a bit mixed. I tend to think that it should not be legalized and made readily available to consenting adults. However, alcohol and cigarettes are easily accessible to adults (and minors) and while subject to government rules, regulations, and controls, are legal and highly acceptable (although cigarettes are experiencing a downturn in popularity). Like many people my age, I've had my share of alcoholic beverages, and I'm a former smoker. Cigarettes tend to make me feel lightheaded, nauseous, and dizzy. Alcohol, as we all know, impairs mental abilities and motor skills, and if you drink to much you end up with a wicked headache, dehyrated, and sick. While neither of these legal pastimes gives me the munchies, the effects of both cigarettes and alcohol are very similar to smoking a joint. And yet, smoking a joint is illegal but having a quick puff and a drink are not. There are more deaths associated with alcohol and cigarettes than with marijuana but making either of those illegal would draw such huge protests that the issue would quickly be forgotten.

While not the best documentary I've seen, it was informative and very interesting. I would have enjoyed more history on the use of cannabis but that wasn't really the focus of the film. Definately recommended although not a "must-see".


Anonymous said...

Check out this Milton Friedman Video where he speaks out against the war on drugs: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Se_TJzB9-z0

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