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Marijuana's a no-no, says desi Surgeon General nominee

By Aziz Haniffa
February 06, 2014 11:26 IST
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‘I won’t prescribe it to his patients.’

’I would advise kids to stay away from it.’

Indian-origin US Surgeon General nominee Dr Vivek H Murthy expresses his reservations on marijuana, now legalised in two US states

Dr Vivek H Murthy (bottom left), President Obama’s nominee for the United States Surgeon General, believes the jury is still out on the medical benefits of marijuana and hence he wouldn’t prescribe it to his patients. Furthermore, if he had kids, he would advise them to stay away from it.

During his confirmation hearing, he was asked by several Republican senators for his position on the growing campaign for the legalisation of marijuana, which has become a huge issue in the US. Two states -- Colorado and Washington -- have legalising marijuana for recreational use and the District of Columbia, has allowed its use for medicinal purposes.

Murthy acknowledged that “this is a very important issue” in many states and noted that some of his patients too had spoken to him on the efficacy of marijuana.

“This is an important public health issue,” he noted, but asserted, “I wouldn’t prescribe medical marijuana myself.”

Murthy said, “In my estimation, while there is anecdotal evidence of benefits we hear about from cancer doctors and other physicians about medical marijuana, I agree with the AMA (American Medical Association) and other organiastions, that we need more information about the proven indications of medical marijuana as well as safe doses and the risks and the side effects, before we can safely prescribe it for medical purposes.”

“Just like other drugs,” he said, “I don’t recommend marijuana and I don’t think it’s a good habit to use marijuana.”

Murthy added, “If I had kids, I would tell them not to use it.”

Asked if he would use his bully pulpit as surgeon general to get this message out to the public, he said, “What I would do is -- as I was mentioning earlier -- I believe we need more information on marijuana.”

Last month, in an interview with The New Yorker magazine, US President Barack Obama said he still had negative views about pot smoking, but that on the whole, marijuana doesn’t get the bad rap it did in the past and that it’s no more dangerous than alcohol.

He told the magazine, “As has been well documented, I smoked pot as a kid, and I view it as a bad habit and a vice, not very different from the cigarettes that I smoked as a young person up through a big chunk of my adult life.”

“I don’t think it is more dangerous than alcohol,” he said, and argued, “In terms of its impact on the individual consumer,” marijuana was in fact, actually less dangerous than alcohol.

Obama told the New Yorker, “It’s not something I encourage and I’ve told my daughters I think it’s a bad idea, a waste of time, not very healthy.”

Interestingly, Dr Sanjay Gupta, chief medical correspondent of CNN, who Obama once tapped to be the US surgeon general but could not convince to take up the position, has gone out on a limb saying he strongly supports the use of medical marijuana.

In his special report, he documented cases of cancer patients and others with debilitating diseases who have benefited greatly from the use of marijuana in easing their pain and suffering.

The federal government still lumps marijuana in the same category as heroin, ecstasy and psychedelic mushrooms.

Image: A woman smokes a joint at the High Times US Cannabis Cup in Seattle, Washington, one of the first states to legalise the use of marijuana for recreational purproses

Photograph: Jason Redmond/Reuters


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Aziz Haniffa in Washington DC