Dr. Sanjay Gupta changes course on cannabis reform


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Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta appeared on the Katie Couric Show on ABC last week alongside “Marijuana Moms” advocates Cheryl and Aimee Shumann to discuss the various benefits of smoking weed.
You can stop rubbing your eyes or adjusting your screen, yes, even Dr. Gupta has seen the light – or perhaps the profit – when it comes to medicating with marijuana, and even enjoying it on a purely recreational level. This reefer revelation has him blazing a trail on the talk show media circuit promoting his latest project, a pro-ganja documentary called “WEED”, slated to air sometime in August.

Born and raised in Michigan on the same 8 Mile Road made famous by the Eminem movie that shares its title with the name of the street, Dr. Sanjay Gupta has come quite a long way. From being named one of People magazine’s Sexiest Men of 2003, to assuming the roles of assistant professor of neurosurgery at Emory University and associate chief of neurosurgery at Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta, to an Emmy award winning career as a journalist, host, and chief medical correspondent for CNN, Dr. Gupta rode his wave of success all the way to a nomination for Surgeon General of the United States from the Obama Administration in 2009. Fortunately, over the past decade, he has had a similar evolution with regard to his opinions on marijuana as well.
Actually, his gradual shift to the logical anti-prohibition side of the argument has really only happened over the past three or four years, as he was still parroting fact-free old wives’ tales about weed when he was angling for the Surgeon General nod and trying not to corner President Obama on an issue that the Administration clearly didn’t, and still doesn’t, want to address.
A decade ago, Dr. Gupta was warning of the inevitable bouts of depression and other mental illnesses that the devil’s lettuce was sure to bring about. From an interview on CNN’s American Morning in 2002, the good doctor states, “THC is the active chemical in marijuana. This is a chemical that gets in the brain and binds to certain receptors. Those receptors, once expressed have the cellular reactions that cause all of the things associated with a high — pleasure, difficulties with memory, difficulties with concentration, uncoordinated movements.”

In 2006, he wrote a scathing op-ed for Time magazine, titled “Why I would Vote No on Pot”, in which he unwittingly played the role of the misinformed lab coat geek spitting the very nonsense about pot that his new documentary aims to shoot down once and for all.
In 2006, he begins with the blanket statement that “marijuana isn’t really very good for you”.
In 2013, he is touting the progressive use of medical marijuana in Israel, and citing their ever-expanding list of research studies proving the efficacy of medical marijuana in treating many types of ailments. He now quotes an award-winning 80 year old Israeli scientist who says that “Americans are a bunch of prudes” on the issue of weed.
In 2006, he warns of the detriments of long term marijuana use, quoting Dr. Nora Volkow of the National Institute on Drug Abuse who claims that “Numerous and deleterious health consequences are associated with [marijuana’s] short- and long-term use, including the possibility of becoming addicted.”
In 2013, Dr. Gupta suddenly remembers that exactly zero people have died from marijuana use in its 5000 year history, and he squanders no opportunity to shed light on the fact that someone in America accidentally overdoses on legally prescribed pills 20,000 times every year – one death every 19 minutes.
Today’s Dr. Gupta also fires back at the “addiction” accusations, rightly pointing out that marijuana’s addiction rate of 5-9% pales in comparison to that of alcohol (16% addiction rate), tobacco (31%), or its Schedule I cellmates LSD and heroin (23%).
He even likes to go all conspiracy theorist these days, citing the DuPont Chemicals bankrolling of the 1930’s propaganda film Reefer Madness while promoting his new documentary on a recent appearance on The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson.
Back on his home network at CNN, Dr. Gupta appeared on Piers Morgan Live on June 21st, again promoting the documentary, and again reciting his well-grooved talking points as a born-again cannabis advocate. Morgan concluded the one-on-one interview by asking “Is there any logical, scientific-backed reason why if tobacco and alcohol are legalized, why marijuana should not be legalized?” Dr. Gupta, completely bereft of any sense of irony and apparently suffering from his own short-term memory loss, replied by saying, “I really can’t find that. There’s a fair amount of hypocrisy when it comes to marijuana, and it has dated back 75 or 80 years in this country.”
You don’t need to dig that far back in history to find a decidedly unfair amount of hypocrisy surrounding cannabis, and the reality is that Dr. Sanjay Gupta has spent much more time demonizing marijuana, and downplaying its benefits, than he has advocating in favor of it.
But whatever the motivation is behind his epiphany, the fact that he is now promoting the truth behind cannabis is helpful, and absolutely welcome. Dr. Gupta’s voice carries an air of legitimacy among the mainstream that the legalization movement desperately needs.