In the early days of AIDS, the gay community was very split over marijuana because a lot of the people who were suffering from AIDS at that time had been living in the fast lane; alcohol, poppers, cocaine, marijuana, everything. Rightly, the drugs were a problem, a part of the AIDS problem. Patient groups in the early days were anti-drug, which included marijuana. But some of the people knew marijuana was different. Well, they divide it up in this group. Those who stopped every drug, including marijuana, good for them, except for the marijuana part. The ones who stop everything except marijuana, and as a friend put it, god rest his soul, the ones who are anti marijuana lost their argument because they all died.
On the contrary, marijuana was keeping people alive. In the early days of the AIDS epidemic, some tried to get the government to allow patients with AIDS to use medical marijuana. This was ironically started under the administration of George W. Bush. Then when Bill Clinton becomes President, we were very optimistic about this program.
“I smoked, but I didn’t inhale” says Bill Clinton, you know, about as true as any other thing he’s said. But what happened was that they shut down the medical marijuana program because they said it was sending the wrong message to children. This was the whole justification. The justification for the drug war was to protect children, even the ones that are having seizures every 30 seconds.
This was something that was a particular in places like San Francisco where you had a very large gay community. It was the epicenter of the gay community, along New York at the beginnings of the AIDS epidemic. My late friend, Dennis Perone, as a leader of the gay community and progressive politics in San Francisco, saw point of fact, and his friends who used marijuana were outliving the ones who did not. Were people dying from a lot of different complications? AIDS is a very complex problem because basically it promotes immunosuppression. One of the things that patients suffer from was a total loss of appetite. If you’re nauseous all the time, you don’t want to eat. And if you don’t eat, that’s not really good for your health, particularly if you have an immunosuppressive disease. Once they use marijuana, ate, the quality of life is infinitely better. Eventually, sometimes they would still succumb, but they suffered a lot less. A doctor at San Francisco General Hospital, Dr. Donald Abrams, observed this right in the middle of the epidemic. He sees the major difference is that some are losing weight and wasting away quickly versus the ones who aren’t. What was the difference factor? Some were using marijuana. Dr. Abrams, seeing this applies for a government grant and permission to do research to see if marijuana would help people with AIDS.
He was turned down. So he tries it again, and this time he decided to reword his application. Will medical marijuana hurt people with AIDS?
Done. Got your rap sheet. Got your marijuana? Certainly.
Well, he did his research, and the results were disastrous for the government. Good for the patients; what they did was put two groups of people in a hospital setting for roughly 30 days. One group got a placebo. The other group got actual marijuana. The ones who got the marijuana did much better than the ones who did not. But really, what’s scary was following that the viral load count for the people who are getting medical marijuana actually went down.
It indicated that marijuana, cannabis, whole cannabis was in fact suppressing the virus and helping the immune system. You didn’t hear about that? Well, maybe because it didn’t fit the party line, but it certainly had one effect, and that is that Donald Abrams will never get another grant from NIDA to do research on medical marijuana.
The government made it quite clear that it does not consider marijuana a threat to public health. It considers marijuana a threat to the drug war. It considers marijuana a threat to a police state, one that can arrest sick and dying people, that can seize people’s property and cars for using a medicine that the government has not approved on.