'Wait for evidence' on medical marijuana

By RASHAD ROLLE

Tribune Staff Reporter

rrolle@tribunemedia.net

HEALTH Minister Dr Duane Sands vowed not to throw around the weight of his personal views in the medical marijuana debate as he brought opening remarks at the country's first medical marijuana symposium on Wednesday evening.

The event, hosted by the Medical Association of the Bahamas, was held at the British Colonial Hilton.

Dr Sands struck a cautionary tone, noting that advancements in medicine don't always progress in a linear fashion but often take place amid twists and turns.

His ministry, he said, has heard anecdotes for and against medical marijuana uses. Now it's time to consider the evidence, he said.

He distanced the symposium from discussions about recreational marijuana use, saying: "We are here to discuss the topic of medical marijuana. Not recreational marijuana, not cocaine or other drugs. Is this the wonder drug denied a dance at the prom or will we be opening Pandora's box?

"The history of medicine does not read like a romance novel. It is more like a thriller mixed in with a comedy and a tragedy. There is suspense and conflict. Medical advancement has sometimes put clinicians at odds with the prevailing views of the general society. Advances in medicine often shook society from its positions of comfort. Sometimes it has been the venerable respected clinician whose life's work was discredited. There was a time that we just 'knew' that bloodletting cured disease. In that era, there were competent blood-letters. During the Greek Empire, we refined our understanding of the working of the human body - which was believed to depend on the interplay of diet and activity on the four humours of black bile, yellow bile, blood and phlegm. There were experts in each of these disciplines who could fix problems by manipulating these humours.

"Human dissection and the acquisition of knowledge of anatomy has had a checkered past. Religious and social views on dissection initially prevented human dissection, then gave way to a brisk business of body-snatching or grave-robbing to provide cadavers for teaching. Here again - the advancement of knowledge created conflict. In 1846, William Morton introduced ether anaesthesia and the era of surgery commenced. When Lister published his treatise on asepsis, many diseases previously deemed lethal became eminently treatable.

"Theodore Billroth, a notable professor of surgery, said: "The surgeon who would attempt to suture a wound of the heart should lose the respect of his colleagues.' Thankfully, iconoclasts like Blalock and Thomas, Lillehei Cooley, and others risked such infamy. Can you imagine, on the one hand, creating an operation to save the lives of countless blue babies but to simultaneously tolerate contempt of that same public because you insisted on securing the role of an African American scientist Vivien Thomas in that procedure if you lived in Baltimore in 1944?"

He added: "Tonight, we are here to topple the status-quo again... There are conflicting positions that coexist defining marijuana as a gift from the gods or the work of the devil. My ministry is pleased to support tonight's forum and any similar forum that aims to educate and inform. We have heard the anecdotes for and against. Now let us see the evidence. I have no idea where this field is headed. Could we be witnessing a game-changing breakthrough?"